Innovation: A Common Theme

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What an amazing week!  The MEP program hosted the Manufacturing Innovations 2011 conference in Orlando, Florida last week with over 650 attendees and more than 80 different sessions to better understand what it will take to encourage U.S. innovation in manufacturing.  Innovation – that is a word you hear a lot these days.  Manufacturing must be more innovative, the U.S. needs innovation to be globally competitive, states must implement innovative policies, and on and on.  But what are we really talking about.  What is innovation?  What does it mean for the United States?

If you listened to Doug Woods, the president of the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), U.S. innovation is integrating the vast resources of the federal government in partnership with industry to compete against other nations.  Doug Woods encouraged attendees to consider AMT’s Manufacturing Mandate: http://www.amtonline.org/article_display.cfm?article_id=161486§ion_id=100.

Doug explained that cooperation and innovation are the keys to our future success. AMT is calling for collaboration between government, industry and academia to incentivize innovation and R&D; increase global competitiveness; and to build a better educated and trained “smartforce.” His view of U.S. innovation is integration.

Complimenting these descriptions were the comments of Rob Atkinson, President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.  Rob shared the findings from a series of papers that are reframing our national manufacturing conversation including: the importance of a national strategy to the nation’s economy, the policies and rationales used by other nations to support manufacturing, and an outline for action.  Rob shared with us that a considerable part of the loss in U.S. manufacturing jobs has not just been a story of higher productivity leading to fewer jobs. It has also been more a story of decline in output due to a loss of international competitiveness. Rob’s call for a U.S. manufacturing strategy is not to bring back manufacturing that the United States had twenty or fifty years ago. The profile of manufacturing has evolved and will continue to evolve over time, just as the U.S. economy evolves. Rob’s discussion was a call to restore U.S. manufacturing to a competitive position in the global economy, even though the industries and jobs may look very different than they did a generation ago.  This is his view of U.S. innovation.

The key note address from Florida Governor Rick Scott focused on innovation around how Florida provides a business friendly environment.  When business owners can do business anywhere, Governor Scott knows that his state must provide opportunities for a positive return on investment, an educated workforce, and a great quality of life – and he believes this can all be achieved in sunny Florida!  For Governor Scott, U.S. innovation is providing an environment that minimizes regulation, reduces the cost of government, and offers a talented workforce.  And while some may differ on the best combination of actions to achieve these goals, you cannot disagree with the Governor’s objectives – his vision for innovation in Florida.

And finally, the comments of Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-Philadelphia), really brought all of these ideas together when he announced his plans to introduce legislation to advance federal research and development efforts and to stimulate American job growth. Congressman Fattah will introduce The American Discoveries – American Jobs Commission Act of 2011 to establish a commission to study and recommend improvements to the existing system of federally funded research.  The commission is further directed to ensure products developed with federal research are manufactured in the U.S., guaranteeing broader benefits from initial investments.  For Congressman Fattah, innovation includes new products made in America – not only research and development but manufacturing and production using new processes, leading to new products, and responding to new market needs both here in the US and around the world.

No matter whether you think innovation is offering a better business environment, refocusing education to provide a smartforce of the future, integrating public and private resources leading to the products of the future, or encouraging manufacturers to produce these new ideas in America, we are all describing what it takes for the United States to be innovative. This is the conversation that is required for our country to get back into the global game.  We need a strategy for success — we need to document our plan for innovation – one that includes multiple sectors of the economy – so we can marshal the great and vast resources of the U.S. to win this international competition.

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  1. As an attendee to my first MEP Conference, I can say that it was an eye-opening experience in that the quality and quantity of the data provided was staggering. There is much to do and as the new Board Chair for the Arizona MEP, I feel we have only scratched the surface as far as positive actitivities we can do to aid in the process of shoring up our manufacturing story in Arizona.

    The challenge as I see it, is that we have very good perspectives from a strategic and “30,000 foot level”. Looking at the “ground level” or from a SME perspective however, there is much to do in connecting the dots to foster growth. I look forward to the challenge and will endeavor to take advantage of the vast stores of information and expertise both on a local and federal level to aid my local MEP Center.

    Respectfully,

    Dante O. Fierros
    AZMEP
    Chair

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