By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – Hamstrung by an obstinate Congress, President Obama is working on his own to create a network of “innovation hubs” to produce the technological breakthroughs needed to re-invigorate American manufacturing and generate the jobs of the future. With seed money from the Defense Department, each of the four hubs announced so far is dedicated to rebuilding the made-in-America industry that was decimated in the first decade of this century as factories shut down and millions of good paying jobs were lost.
The two latest hubs, announced in an event at the White House Tuesday, were awarded to a team headquartered in the city of Detroit and a consortium based in Chicago. The two earlier hubs are in Youngstown, Ohio and Raleigh, North Carolina, where the Department of Energy is taking the lead in developing next generation power electronics.
Obama envisions 45 such hubs across the country, but so far Congress has balked at approving the legislation, preferring to criticize the president for not doing enough to create jobs yet stymieing every effort he makes. While frustrated that Congress is not behind this project, it has not dimmed Obama’s enthusiasm.
Welcoming an audience of businessmen, scientists and academics to the White House, Obama declared, “I’m here to announce that we’re building Iron Man – I’m going to blast off in a second. This is a secret project we’ve been working on.” As everyone laughed, Obama continued, “Not really,” then added, “Maybe . . . It’s classified.”
The idea of re-invigorating the manufacturing base and capitalizing on America’s number one strength, which is technology, is not rocket science; it’s economics 101. For generations, manufacturing was the ticket to the middle class. From cars in Detroit to steel in Youngstown, “The work was hard and the jobs were good,” Obama said. And the jobs paid enough so that workers could buy a house, send their kids to college, and achieve what we think of as the American Dream.
In the decade since 2000, a third of all manufacturing jobs were lost, and the dignity and pride of a generation of workers was also lost. A lot of those jobs will never come back, but Obama in partnership with the private sector has made some headway. In the last four years, manufacturers have added 622,000 jobs, the first sustained growth in over 20 years.
Some of what Obama called the “cool stuff” that manufacturers are turning out was arrayed behind him in the East Room of the White House. One reporter eyeing what appeared to be a large silver sculpture dubbed it a headless dinosaur. Not quite, a White House fact sheet released later identified the items as the support frame of a joint strike fighter, a helicopter engine, a robotic arm used in underwater explosive removal, and a 3-D printer.
“The single most important thing in America is innovation,” Obama said, explaining the role that hubs will play in taking an idea from its inception to its production and made-in-America dissemination in the marketplace. The Detroit hub will soon make a metal as thin as a sheet of paper and as strong as steel, he said, adding that he can’t stress how important it is to have these hubs if America is to succeed in the global competition. Germany has 60 hubs, he noted. “We can’t let Germany have 60 and we have 4,” he said, calling on the country’s competitive spirit.
To observe an event like this and to feel the enthusiasm of the crowd, and of the president, is to marvel at the potential that is America. Republicans have always preached that the country is doing fine; the government should just get out of the way. By refusing to green light these hubs, the Republican Congress is doing what it says it opposes, standing in the way of private sector innovation.
© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.