Congress should establish an initiative to designate 20 institutions of higher education as “U.S. Manufacturing Universities” as part of a needed push to strengthen the position of the United States in the increasingly innovation-driven global economy. In 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act, which established land-grant colleges to promote learning in “agriculture and the mechanic arts.” These colleges played a key role in enabling the United States to later take the lead in the mechanization of agriculture and the industrialization of the economy. Today, the challenge is even greater as America competes against a wide array of nations seeking to win the race for global innovation advantage, especially in advanced manufacturing. A new cadre of federally-designated “Manufacturing Universities” that revamp their engineering programs with particular emphasis on work that is relevant to manufacturing firms while providing engineering students with real-world work experience should be part of the solution.
Creating the Manufacturing University
As industrial production has moved overseas, the engineering, product development and technology innovation that are key components of manufacturing has gone with it. And it is getting worse. In an effort to address this potential catastrophe and restore American leadership in manufacturing, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) and the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program are proposing that the federal government support the designation of a core of approximately 20 leading “manufacturing universities.” This would include significant federal investment of $25 million per university and the creation of a network of industry-university partnerships that could provide the technical training and applied research necessary to transform American industries and assist us in better competing globally.
Why America Needs a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation
America needs a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. This paper sets forth the argument for this proposition in two parts. The first part makes the case for an innovation-centered national manufacturing policy. It lays out key challenges facing the U.S. manufacturing sector, advances reasons why the nation should care about manufacturing, and sets forth the rationale for an active federal role in fostering manufacturing innovation. Crucially, this role should be catalytic, not directive; federal actions should spur other key players, especially the private sector, into action and foster stronger collaboration among them.
The second half of the paper articulates five key principles that should govern the design of the NNMI. These principles are:
- A focus within each of the NNMI’s constituent Institutes on significant, industry-defined innovation challenges, particularly in process innovation;
- Support for the full innovation process, including technology roadmapping, applied research, operation of demonstration facilities and testbeds that benefit small and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises (SMEs), education and training at all levels, and development of standards and credentials;
- Collaboration among academia, business, government, and other partners, led by manufacturers;
- A bottom-up competitive process, managed by the federal government, to identify innovation focus areas and select collaborative teams;
- Private-public co-investment, with manufacturers providing about 50 percent of each Institute’s resources and federal and state agencies carrying most of the balance.