Obama announces $140 million partnership to launch N.C. manufacturing institute

Wednesday, the president announced an initiative to bring together North Carolina businesses and educational institutions to strengthen the manufacturing sector. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

Raleigh, N.C. – President Obama on Wednesday launched a new effort to boost jobs and a healthier foundation for economic growth, announcing a $140 million partnership with local companies and universities in establishing a manufacturing institute that can help preserve the United States as a global leader in energy innovation.

The effort reflects a major economic priority of the president – rebuilding U.S. manufacturing – and also a strategy for this year of finding ways to make progress on his agenda that don’t involve Congress. Obama on Thursday will meet with college presidents in an effort them to recruit low-income students, and next week he will meet with the heads of major companies to get commitments to hire long-term unemployed workers.

“This has to be a year of action,” Obama said on the campus of North Carolina State University, where the manufacturing institute here will be based. “Where I can act on my own without Congress, I’m going to do so.”

The institute is the second launched by Obama, and his administration is working swiftly to launch two more – all part of an initiative announced in last year’s State of the Union address to improve this long-beleaguered sector of the economy. However, the three institutes fall short of the 45 institutes that Obama has promoted as a top goal.

"The economy is growing strong. This can be a breakthrough year for America,” Obama said. “The pieces are all there for bringing back more of the jobs we’ve lost over the past decade.”

Obama has pledged $200 million in existing federal money for the initiative, taken from existing agencies. The North Carolina institute, focused on power technology, will get $70 million from the Energy Department and the same amount from local companies and universities.

“Each institute is designed to serve as a regional hub designed to bridge the gap between applied research and product development, bringing together companies, universities and other academic and training institutions, and Federal agencies to co-invest in technology areas that encourage investment and production in the U.S.,” the White House said in a statement before the event. “This type of ‘teaching factory’ provides a unique opportunity for education and training of students and workers at all levels, while providing the shared assets to help companies, most importantly small manufacturers, access the cutting-edge capabilities and equipment to design, test, and pilot new products and manufacturing processes.”

The White House noted that manufacturing has been a strength for the economy, with companies adding 568,000 manufacturing jobs back into the economy after the steep fall that accompanied the Great Recession.

Still, the numbers are not as rosy at Obama would like. Obama has made a goal of adding a million new manufacturing workers to the economy during his term. As of now that objective seems unlikely to be met, with the pace of manufacturing hiring slowing dramatically over the past year. Last year, for example, only 77,000 manufacturing jobs were added to the economy

"This is going to be a long haul. We're not going to turn things around overnight," Obama said. "But the great news is that ultimately because our people are good and smart and hardworking and willing to take risks, we are going to be able to start to be able to brink those jobs back to America."

The other two institutes under development by the Defense Department will focus on “Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation and Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing.”

“In Germany they’ve already got sixty of these manufacturing units,” Obama said. “So we’ve got some catching up to do.”

Zachary A. Goldfarb is policy editor at The Washington Post.
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