In Ohio, President Obama Finds a Model for Manufacturing Revival

Rust Belt city will probably become a national model for innovation after President Barack Obama singled it out in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

It’s debatable whether Barack Obama can revive the country’s manufacturing, as he earlier proposed in his State of the Union address. Photo: The White House/Flickr

“Our economy is adding jobs – but too many people still can’t find full-time employment. Corporate profits have skyrocketed to all-time highs – but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged,” the president said Tuesday.

“It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class.”

“It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, or who you love,” he concluded.

The U.S. president now plans to ask Congress to spend $1 billion to replicate the model nationwide. However, it will be uneasy to convince Republicans, who oppose government spending on industry.

Local business leaders suggest that Youngstown, Ohio’s National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) is also being considered to be involved in a promising new technology known as “3D printing” that could bring new manufacturing jobs to the region.

The federal government is reportedly attracting numerous researchers and businesses that could make the region a hotbed of cutting-edge manufacturing.

“This is absolutely a net positive for the Youngstown area,” said Eric Planey, a vice president with the Youngstown Chamber of Commerce.

The Obama administration stands for a manufacturing revival as labor-saving technology, rising costs overseas and cheap energy at home made some manufactories to bring their facilities back to U.S.

According to economists, the country has left behind the days when steel mills, auto plants and machine jobs boosted millions of unskilled Americans into the middle class. Manufacturing now represents 12 percent of the U.S. work force, down from 20 percent compared to 1979.

Youngstown has seen some slight return of manufacturing jobs since its steel mills shut down in the 1970s, but automation means that fewer people will be involved in manufacturing.

A new pipe factory that would have needed up to 1,000 workers 25 years ago now has 350 employees, Planey said, while a General Motors assembly plant that employs 5,000 produces as many cars as it did when it employed 14,000 people.

As Reuters writes, Obama administration believed that manufacturing might not ever employ as many people as it used to do a few decades ago, but the sector has broader benefits to the economy as it spurs research and development and boosts exports.

Considering similar efforts in Germany, the administration a year ago chosen Youngstown as a potential site of an “innovation institute” that would spread new manufacturing ideas among a wide range of businesses.

“You are using a facility as essentially like a teaching hospital,” Gene Sperling, the director of the White House National Economic Council, said on a conference call on Wednesday.

“When there are developments in technology and research, you have the capacity to share them with smaller businesses.”

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