A multi-agency initiative by the U.S. federal government is another vote of confidence in the revival of the American manufacturing economy.
In July 2015, the second round of 12 communities was selected to participate in the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership program, which gives them access to support and funding. Sample projects include metals manufacturing in Pittsburgh, Louisiana chemical factories, California food and beverage manufacturing, and medical product production in Minnesota.
Between 2000 and 2010, almost 40 percent of large U.S. plants closed, with a subsequent loss of jobs. But with recent employment increases – almost 1 million new jobs since 2010 – manufacturing is entering a new phase of growth and expansion. Rather than the piecemeal approach historically offered, the initiative fosters coordination between federal agencies.
The 12 new communities added are centered in: Pittsburgh, Pa.; San Antonio, Tex.; New Orleans, La.; Madison, Wis.; Memphis, Tenn.; Peoria, Ill.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Twin Falls, Idaho; Wasatch, Utah; Oregon and Southwest Washington; Hartford, Conn.; and Fresno/Sacramento, Calif.
The first 12 manufacturing communities established in 2014 are centered in: Southwest Alabama; Southern California; Northwest Georgia; Chicago, Ill.; South Kansas; Portland, Maine; Southeastern Michigan; Rochester, N.Y.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Knoxville, Tenn.; Washington Puget Sound; and Milwaukee, Wis.
To participate, businesses and economic development organizations in a region form partnerships led by universities or state agencies. These partnerships decide on either an industry or a multi-county focus for their manufacturing hub.
The next step is to identify strengths and competitive advantages in the focus area, and then create a strategic plan for development. Strategic plans address the hub’s work force and supply chain, infrastructure, research and innovation, trade, investment, capital access and operations. This plan guides investments by agencies and support activities offered, such as work force training, capital access and technology transfer from university and government labs. In total, the 11 agencies involved have $1 billion in funding available. Dedicated liaisons from each agency are provided to the manufacturing communities’ participants.
Some of the hubs support very small businesses, outside the traditional model of economic development focused on large plant attraction and retention. Portland, Maine, for example, hosts 31 percent of the state’s food manufacturing jobs, many of them in home-based or micro operations. The Maine project includes port development, startup support and strengthened connections between local growers, food processors and markets.
Regions are also capitalizing on past strength, such as Detroit, Mich., once renowned as “Motor City.” The Michigan project seeks to revitalize the automotive industry by specializing in digital “connected car” technologies. This initiative includes work force development and access to 50 labs and research facilities.
Another such region is the Finger Lakes in New York State. Despite the downsizing of major employers such as Xerox, Kodak, and Bausch and Lomb, the area still specializes in precision machining and optics, photonics and imaging, and those sectors are the hub’s focus.
Hubs that build on existing strengths include the Puget Sound aerospace cluster – largest in the world – and the Milwaukee 7 Region, known as the “Machine Shop of the World.” Puget Sound is seeking to grow the local employee pool, and Milwaukee is diversifying into energy, water technologies, and food and beverage manufacturing.
The Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership program launches competitions to select communities. Proposals must include evidence of regional collaboration, show that critical elements are in place, and describe how selection will help the manufacturing hub grow. More about the program can be found at www.eda.gov/challenges/imcp/index.htm.
Agencies participating include: