A bit of optimism isn’t bad

On the side

Hagel opponent: U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican, said he is “inclined to oppose” the nomination of ex-U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, also a Republican, as secretary of defense. Portman said he is “concerned about [Hagel’s past] policy positions,” and added that former senator’s committee hearing “didn’t go well for him.” Portman said he is concerned about what Hagel has said in the past about Israel. Even more damning, Portman said, “I don’t believe Chuck Hagel has the ability” for the job, and the position requires a “skill-set I don’t think he has.” Portman said the Senate “should hold his vote until we get answers to reasonable requests we’ve made” to the President Barack Obama administration about the terrorist attack at the U.S. consulate in Libya.

Skepticism is as much a part of the Mahoning Valley’s DNA as Brier/Briar Hill pizza, wedding soup, Mill Creek Park and talking about the good old days of the steel mills and Idora Park.

While I’m not a native (I came here in 1995), I’ve been a lifelong skeptic.

So I understand why some Valley residents are skeptical and/or dismissive of President Barack Obama’s statements in his State of the Union address about Youngstown.

“Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing,” Obama said.

He mentioned major companies — Apple, Ford, Intel and Caterpillar — bringing jobs and products back to the United States from other companies.

What followed caught most of us off-guard.

“There are things we can do right now to accelerate this trend. Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio,” Obama said. “A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3-D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns.”

The president was referring to the $70 million National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute at 236 W. Boardman St., an unassuming little building located behind The Vindicator’s unassuming large building that houses the newsroom.

What do they do there?

Right now, not too much, but that’s because the facility opened only a few months ago. By March, NAMII will award its first set of projects and really take off, officials there say.

Production boost

The facility’s focus is on boosting production of additive manufacturing.

The technology uses 3-D software that draws up a detailed blueprint, which is then transmitted to a specialized machine that uses plastics, metals or resins to print a product layer-by-layer, cutting out costly material and labor in the process.

I still wonder how my television works — I’m sticking with my long-held belief that it is magic — but this technology sounds impressive.

And the mention of the “first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio,” is huge for an area that has been kicked in the teeth for decades but keeps fighting back.

As U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-13th, said, Obama’s statement tells people “this is a great place to do business,” and “it gives us some gravitas as a place where innovative things are happening.”

“We’ve had such a negative perception of ourselves for the past 50 years,” said Barb Ewing, chief operating officer at the Youngstown Business Incubator, which helped the city land the NAMII. “This helps change that perception. When the national media used to come to Youngstown, they were focusing on burned-out buildings. Now it’s on our successes in innovation. How much of a turnaround is that?”

Let’s try to be a bit optimistic for a little while and see if this institute and the 3-D technology it creates can help this area thrive again.

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