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From the Desk of Jack Healy

Increasing Investments in Manufacturing's Future

Jack Healy – The voice of manufacturing in Massachusetts
Jack Healy – A Voice for Manufacturing in Massachusetts

By Jack Healy, President and CEO, MassMEP

Return on Investment (ROI) has been an essential management metric that, in recent years, has shaped the manufacturing community to the point where overall industry investment has fallen to minimal levels. This same fiscal ROI minimization culture is seen in other industries, including government. That is why Governor Baker's new Economic Plan is such a surprise as it provides the largest investment directly targeting the innovation economy. The Economic Plan is a $118 million capital authorization for matching grants to the state's Manufacturing Innovation Institutes (MII) within the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). This is an investment in the future that has drawn immediate additional investment from the federal government.

The Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) was recently named as Massachusetts' third Manufacturing Innovation Hub, accelerating research into revolutionary fibers and textiles for the Department of Defense. This Institute joins two other existing institutes in the state that support new development in photonics and flexible electronics research. These, and any future institutes, are also eligible for grants that the state is using to build a new statewide innovation ecosystem.

Increasing Investments in Manufacturing's Future

What are Manufacturing Innovation Institutes (MII)? The NNMI consists of multiple linked MII's with common goals and unique technical concentrations. Each Institute is designed to accelerate U.S. advanced manufacturing by catalyzing the development of new technologies, educational competencies, production processes, and products via shared contributions from the public and private sectors and academia. MII‘s provide shared facilities to local start ups and small manufacturers to help scale up new technologies, accelerate technology transfer to the marketplace and facilitate the adoption of innovation workforce skills at multiple levels and to strengthen business capabilities in large and small companies.

Individual Institutes serve as a regional hub in their areas, bridging the gap between applied research and product development with a focus in key technology areas that encourage investment and production in their respective regions and in the U.S.  As nodes in the NNMI, the Institutes complement each other's capabilities and benefit from shared approaches to matters such as intellectual property, contract research, and performance metrics.  While MII's are regionally focused, the network is national, integrated, and dynamic, designed to foster innovation and deliver new capabilities that can stimulate manufacturing on a large scale. 

On February 19, 2016, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker submitted to Congress the first ever legislative report required of the National Network. The 2016 NNMI Annual Report provides an overview of the origin, primary goal, and early progress of the NNMI program. The report includes a profile of each of the individual MII's, including location, funding, consortium organizer, and membership totals. The report also highlights information about individual MII activities to support technology advancement, workforce development, sustainability, and innovation ecosystem development, as well as information about private sector investment.

The 2016 Strategic Plan for NNMI includes four overall goals that will guide the NNMI and individual MII efforts through 2016.

  • Increase the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing.

  • Facilitate the transition of innovative technologies into scalable high performing domestic manufacturing capabilities.

  • Accelerate the development of advanced manufacturing workforce.

  • Support business models that help the institutes become sustainable.

Specific recommendations include:

  • Support the increased production of goods manufactured predominantly in the U.S.

  • Foster the leadership of the U.S. in research, innovation, and technology.

  • Enable access by U.S. Manufacturers to proven manufacturing capabilities and capital intensive infrastructure.

  • Facilitate sharing and documentation of best practices for addressing advanced manufacturing challenges.

  • Foster the development of standards and services that support U.S. advanced manufacturing.

  • Nurture future workers for STEM-related work.

  • Support, expand, and communicate relevant secondary and post secondary pathways, including credentialing and certifications.

  • Cultivate advanced knowledge workers: researchers and engineers

  • Identify the competencies needed by the next generation of workers.

As outlined above, it is anticipated that the NNMI will strengthen the innovation capabilities of the U.S. production community, which are essential for success in a highly competitive global manufacturing economy.

But as noted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation back in 2012, "NNMI alone will not fix all that ails U.S. manufacturing. There is no single silver bullet that will revitalize American manufacturing: many policy improvements are needed to both macroeconomic and innovation policy approaches. But creating NNMI would be a very important step. It would fill a major gap in the current U.S. Innovation system for manufacturing. At least as important, it would send a powerful message to the world: the United States is no longer taking manufacturing for granted."

That message has been sent and received by our state's administration, which, based on their ROI analysis, has now planned for a significant investment in our manufacturing innovation future.

Anyone interested in learning more about the NNMI can do so by contacting me at jackh@massmep.org.


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