To hear President Barack Obama tell it — as he did Tuesday night in his nationally televised State of the Union address — the future of high-tech manufacturing in this country is being nurtured in Youngstown. Significantly, it isn’t the first time the president has publicly referred to America Makes, the institute in downtown Youngstown where cutting-edge technology is being developed.
Obama spoke about the city earlier this month when he announced the creation of a similar innovation institute in Raleigh, N.C., and he mentioned us in his State of the Union address last year.
All that attention from the president is great — and does have the effect of turning the national and international spotlight on America Makes, formerly the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute.
But, an even better story would be an announcement by the president that the federal government is following up on its initial $30 million investment in the Youngstown project with a major grant to help facilitate its growth.
The $70 million institute was launched in 2012 by nine research universities, including Youngstown State, Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve; five community colleges, including Eastern Gateway Community College; 40 companies, and 11 nonprofit organizations in the Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh Tech Belt. Of the $70 million, $30 million came from the federal government in a national competition of manufacturing innovation consortiums, and $40 million from the regional participants.
AMERICA MAKES’ NATIONAL FOOTPRINT
Since its launching, America Makes has recognized the potential of being more than a regional initiative and has opened membership to the broader additive manufacturing and research community. The expansion has helped generate additional revenue and expand what initially was a regional consortium into one with a national reach.
Among the early new participants were the University of Texas at Austin, the Missouri University of Science and Technology and the University of Texas at El Paso.
The institute’s primary goal is to make advancements in additive manufacturing through extensive research and development. The technology utilizes 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.
The rapid expansion, coupled with the worldwide interest the innovation hub is generating have obviously grabbed the attention of the White House.
OBAMA SHOULD RETURN TO VALLEY
In his speech Tuesday, the president announced that his administration is planning to help launch six more innovation institutes.
Given that America Makes in Youngstown is the template, Obama should consider coming to the Mahoning Valley and chairing a national forum on high-tech manufacturing.
The president’s approval rating has been below 50 percent for some time, and Republicans in Congress show little interest in working with him on major issues such as immigration, extending unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans and raising the minimum wage.
Obama needs to demonstrate that his administration isn’t just treading water — which he would do by hosting the national forum in Youngstown.