During his recent visit to Davos, as the Swiss mountain village played host to the World Economic Forum, John Kasich talked about Ohio and advanced manufacturing. The governor emphasized his determination to elevate the quality of the work force. He wants to narrow the skills gap that leaves many companies with too few applicants ready for work.
As relayed by Joe Vardon of the Columbus Dispatch, Kasich cited what he sees as “the biggest challenge … getting the companies to tell us what they need, their forecasting” [about the requirements for employees]. The governor added: “And they get a call from the government saying ‘what’s your forecast,’ they usually throw the call slips in the trash can.”
Kasich has put together a task force to devise steps toward a stronger work force. He has prodded universities, community colleges and school districts. He would do well to take time to examine the work of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.
Bruce Katz, Mark Muro and others at the program have been thinking hard about how metropolitan areas, their private and public sectors, can mobilize more effectively to take manufacturing to new levels of innovation and production, even create jobs. Their efforts are part of something I have discussed recently in this space, a series of initiatives called “Remaking Federalism/Renewing the Economy.” They have offered a telling contrast to the dysfunction in Washington, the lack of fresh, imaginative ideas for going forward.
The recent employment and growth numbers, both reflecting the persistent sluggishness, point to the need for something better than the usual bean-counting and blame-casting. The Brookings team takes seriously the steady application of fiscal discipline, and the room required for businesses to succeed. What it highlights is the need to accelerate the transition to the “next economy,” one driven less by consumption and more by innovation, production (making things) and exports.
A couple of weeks ago, the Metropolitan Policy Program proposed three intriguing ideas for advancing advanced manufacturing. One borrows from the Race to the Top, the promising competition pushed by the Obama White House to spur improvement in public schools.
Why not a “Race to the Shop”?
The proposal calls for states and metro areas to compete annually for a share of $150 million. The winners would be rewarded for submitting the strongest plans for aligning policies and investments to meet the particular labor demands of local manufacturers. The money would go toward implementing the plan, the premium on pulling together the range of players, business, government, education.
One benefit would be greater flexibility in the use of current federal workforce development funds.
As Brookings notes, Northeast Ohio already has been moving in this direction. The idea fits into the governor’s concept of economic development by distinctive regions. It is competitive, and relatively inexpensive. How about something akin to a “Race to the Shop” in Ohio?
A second proposal echoes the landmark Morrill Act of 1862, establishing land-grant colleges, promoting “agriculture and the mechanic arts.” These schools provided part of the foundation for the American economy leaping ahead. Brookings wants the federal government today to designate 20 “manufacturing universities.”
Each would receive $25 million from the National Science Foundation, the money devoted to recasting engineering programs, the focus shifting to “manufacturing engineering,” with the aim of “bridging scientific discovery and practical applications.” The schools would work closely with industry, for instance, in joint research projects.
For its part, the University of Akron already has started down this path. Consider its new degree program in corrosion engineering, the new Timken Engineered Surfaces Laboratories and the University of Akron Research Foundation, all driven by collaboration in the real world.
What Brookings has in mind is how the country has fallen behind, producing far fewer bachelor’s degrees in engineering than the likes of Germany and South Korea. Federal funding for research and development hasn’t kept pace since the late 1980s. If it had, the country would invest an additional $110 billion a year.
That difference frames the third idea, “a nationwide network of advanced industries innovation hubs.” Think of a descendent of the Bell Labs, bolstering advanced manufacturing via a mechanism for sustained research and development, for innovation and new products. Such a hub would provide an impetus, again, for stakeholders coming together.
It would complement the new National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, the first pilot in Youngstown, involving emerging 3D printing technology, or additive manufacturing, building parts and products by layering materials.
All three ideas point to the need for a manufacturing strategy, coherent, for sure, and more, both bold and practical, enough to cultivate manufacturing ecosystems, the governor’s problem addressed by the whole.
Douglas is the Beacon Journal editorial page editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3514, or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.