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Obama meets with Pittsburgh entrepreneurs to promote American manufacturing

President Obama greets members of the crowd at TechShop Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pa., June 17, 2014. (Vincent Pugliese/European Pressphoto Agency)

President Obama touted the renaissance of American manufacturing Tuesday, traveling to Pittsburgh to meet with entrepreneurs who are using new technological tools to innovate and produce American products.

Speaking at TechShop Pittsburgh, the president talked about how the industry has evolved, noting that in the past, “manufacturing meant big factories, you know, all kinds of smoke and fire and a lot of heavy capital.”

“But because of advances in technology, part of the opportunity is now — to make the tools that are needed for production and prototypes are now democratized,” he added. “They’re in the hands of anybody who’s got a good idea.”

The White House — which is hosting a “Maker Faire” on Wednesday to showcase some of the most cutting-edge examples of this trend — announced Tuesday that it will make the research, testing equipment and expertise of 700 federal agencies available to small and medium-size manufacturers so they can develop products faster. Five federal agencies also will invest more than $150 million to support the Materials Genome Initiative, a program aimed at boosting the nation’s advanced-materials sector.

Advances in manufacturing tools such as 3D printing and laser cutters, and a surge in U.S. natural gas and oil production have helped spur a revitalization of American manufacturing in recent years. The rate of growth in new manufacturing firm is the highest since 1993, while manufacturing output has increased at about twice the pace of the economy overall since the end of the recession.

“We are witnessing here a new era in innovation and entrepreneurship, where entrepreneurs are tinkering and experiment not just with bits and bytes, but with nuts and bolts,” Jeffrey D. Zients, director of the National Economic Council, said in a call with reporters Monday. “When an opportunity like this knocks, it’s up to us to open the door.”

The president engaged in a freewheeling 45-minute discussion with men and women with business aspirations, discussing the need for better child-care options, how the U.S. educational system could better prepare students and the fact that Obama’s daughter Malia gave him a personal letter for Father’s Day.

At one point, Obama even asked his aides to bring out his iPad, which uses a DODOcase.

“First of all, this is a great product. I love DODO. See, this — this is my iPad case,” he said, noting that he has a picture of him hugging his daughters, Malia and Sasha, on his screen. “But I love this case. And the first prototype was made at a tech shop.”

Also Tuesday, more than 90 mayors announced plans to support manufacturing research and development. Pittsburgh has launched a series of hardware start-ups and is offering science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educational programs at its libraries, while the mayor of Lansing, Mich., has appointed an urban manufacturing coordinator for the city.

After stopping in Pittsburgh, Obama traveled to New York City for his first fundraiser for the Senate Majority PAC, an independent group supporting Democratic candidates. He also was scheduled to address a Democratic National Committee LGBT Gala at Gotham Hall.

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.


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