States Focused on Growing Manufacturing


Over the last few weeks, I have had the privilege of participating in several meetings of states engaged in the National Governors’ Association (NGA)  Academy on “Making our Future:  Encouraging Growth Opportunities in Manufacturing through Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Investment.” This Academy, sponsored by NIST MEP and the Economic Development Administration, is designed to get key political and thought leaders in the states talking about steps they can take to advance manufacturing and innovation.

The NGA team selected seven states – Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania – to participate, and the effort was launched at a kick-off meeting in October.  So what are we observing a couple months into it?  From what I’ve seen, it’s very exciting on two levels:

1) There is broad participation among state leaders from a wide variety of organizations and institutions.  In Illinois, for instance, around the table sat representatives from the Governor’s Office, economic development agencies, federal laboratories, universities, community colleges, workforce development agencies, local government, business associations, service providers like MEP, and others.  There is no doubt that, if you’re going to talk about an intensified and focused state approach to growing manufacturing, these are the right folks to have engaged.

2) The participants are doing more than just talk. There’s a real clear action orientation to their discussions of important questions like:  How can we improve our business climate to support the growth of manufacturers?  How can we increase the adoption of new technologies into companies to enhance innovation and new product development?  How can universities be more “user-friendly” to assisting in getting technologies out into commercialization?  What can states do to address the need for skilled talent among growing manufacturers?  How can we deploy the various assets available more effectively and strategically? Across all the discussions, there is a recognition of the importance of manufacturing to the state’s economy, an appreciation that the state can and does make strategic decisions and investments that can impact the success of manufacturing, and that it’s time to move beyond petty turf battles and silo’ed initiatives to focus on making an impact in the near term.  Very focused on actions!

What’s next?  Over the next 2-3 months, states will continue down the path of developing and executing strategies, each designed to fit their unique circumstances.  The core teams from each state will meet in Chicago in March to compare approaches, learn from one another, and refine strategies and next steps for the spring and summer activities.   MEP centers are right in the middle of the right discussions with the right folks.  At this early stage, I’d have to say “so far, so good!”

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  1. Manufacturing what? All of this process dynamic doesn’t amount to squat if you’re not actually making something. Do any of the participants have ideas — any ideas — about what will be ‘manufactured’ if their initiatives are successful? MEP’s articles talk to the dynamic, but I have yet to see a substantive discussion of what can be made in the United States of America that can’t be manufactured more cheaply overseas.
    But even that issue is secondary if local, state, and federal agencies don’t know and won’t forecast the specifics of what’s to be made — what’s needed. Entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and bankers may look with interest at how risk will be managed and regulations overseen, but they aren’t going to ‘cast their bread upon the waters’ without a clearer understanding of what’s needful for individuals, society in general, and the health of the planet.
    The world of IT, cloud computing, and network security (including questions of privacy) are exploding all around us, but we may already be able to infer an event horizon where these mostly services-based offerings will become ‘mature’ and no longer the optimal business paradigm. We may be seeing advances in subatomic particle physics and electrical power generation that will allow us to carry gigabytes of secure and near real-time (NRT) data that is human portable obviating the need for large scale information handling operations centers and server farms. Nanotechnologies may offer the promise of the ‘next big deal’ for medicine, space exploration, and environmental remediation, but what kinds of products then need to be manufactured in order to maximize social and economic benefits? The list of potential ‘what ifs’ and ‘Gee whizzes’ and ‘woulda-coulda-shouldas’ is endless and can be channeled and shaped into productive outcomes — including the manufacturing field. Why don’t you consult a few of NIST’s ‘world class’ crystal balls and write about those downstream ‘next big things’ for manufacturing.

  2. I’m glad that some states are taking the long view, realizing that working to improve the climate for innovation and manufacturing is the smart move and more than worth the time and effort. This will surely reap benefits for those states in terms of revenue and employment for the next decade and beyond. Way to go!

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  4. I completely agree with Allen’s comment last week about the need for action. This Academy is not about process or interminable meetings or writing reports to sit on a shelf. The Academy process IS designed to have states look at data, trends, their own economic strengths and weaknesses, and decide for themselves what makes the most sense as they develop state policies and make investment decisions. What industries hold great potential to drive growth in regional economies? Which industries can contribute to job creation? What policies or investments hinder or help them to succeed in each state/region, and how can state government support those growth opportunities? These are the kinds of questions that they’re examining throughout the Academy.

    On the question of costs, several of the states are intrigued by the interest in “reshoring” (see or – where companies are bringing back manufacturing operations to the US because the total cost of operating overseas doesn’t provide the anticipated cost advantage. And the analysis of all the costs involved indicate generally that the cost advantage of overseas production has decreased significantly in recent years, due to several factors.

    Your final point encourages local, state, and federal agencies to forecast the specifics of “…what’s to be made….” Agreed, there are amazing possibilities to create manufactured products from the technologies that are under development. MEP is partnering with both public and private organizations to identify current tools and develop new ones to help move ideas from concepts into commercialized opportunities. From helping inventors understand the market opportunities that lie within their idea to working with manufacturers to explore how the new technologies can improve current products or create entire new product lines, the MEP system is working in this area. We recognize how significant both the opportunities and challenges are in this area and are continually exploring and expanding partnerships to support our efforts.

  5. This new initiative is a very important beginning. We need to start somewhere and this learning initiative will help states learn how to help companies. It is something that isn’t being done now and many companies don’t know how to grow. They need help with policies, initiatives and and even education.

    I see the initiatives and education being a very large contribution that states could make to manufacturing companies in the SMB market space.

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