Giant US manufacturing plan progresses with bipartisan support

The signature manufacturing stimulus plan of the Obama Administration is continuing to make progress despite little public recognition.

Called the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), the program seeks to return the United States to the top position in global manufacturing technologies.

“We are looking for businesses and universities that are willing to […] help turn their region into global centers of high-tech jobs – because we want the next revolution in manufacturing to be “Made in America,” said US President Obama while announcing the program at the annual State of the Union address.

Primarily, the program is composed of an estimated $2.4 billion dollars of spending, which is to be used creating US-based manufacturing innovation centers through public-private partnerships.

The funding was made possible through the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act in 2014, and enjoyed bipartisan support.

Currently the program is working to establish five of these centers, dubbed Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation (IMIs). These IMIs focus each on a specific field of manufacturing technology including, semiconductors, additive manufacturing, advanced polymers, digital design and lightweight materials.

A further three more of these institutes are planned to come online later this year.

The aim of these IMIs, and indeed the entire NNMI program, is to help return the US to the top global position in manufacturing technology. Proponents for the program point out that the US lost millions of manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2011, not because of outsourcing, but rather because the US lost its technological edge.

While the US manufacturing sector is once again growing, with 646,000 jobs being added between 2010 and 2014, the $2.4 billion invested in the NNMI program may not be enough to compete with other countries like China.

There, single provinces alone are spending tens of billions of dollars to transition towards a high-tech manufacturing economy.

Additionally, there are concerns that the technologies which the IMIs are working on will actually destroy more jobs than they create.

It is conceivable that investments into robotic technologies or additive manufacturing, while good for the US economy, may be bad for maintaining employment.