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Budget Earmarks Funds for Manufacturing Research
From the Wall Street Journal of Sun, 14 Dec 2014 23:19:09 EST

The budget bill passed by the Senate on Saturday night contains a scaled-down version of one of President Barack Obama ’s pet projects: authorization to create a network of research institutes charged with developing manufacturing technology.

President Obama has been pushing that idea for nearly three years and originally asked Congress to provide $1 billion of funding for as many as 15 institutes. The bill that finally passed authorizes spending of as much as $300 million over 10 years.

The institutes are supposed to spur companies, universities and other organizations to collaborate on research into advanced-manufacturing techniques. Funding will come from the government and participating companies. The idea was inspired partly by Germany’s experience with the Fraunhofer Society, a network of government-backed research institutes founded in 1954.

Mr. Obama has spoken repeatedly of a desire to revitalize the economy by rebuilding manufacturing expertise lost in the past two decades in the rush to employ cheaper labor overseas. In State of the Union addresses over the past five years, he has referred 34 times to manufacturing.

Yet even the National Association of Manufacturers was lukewarm about the original proposal. The $1 billion plan “was too expensive,” said Brian Raymond, director of technology policy at the trade group. But the association endorsed the plan once it was scaled down.

Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, a Massachusetts Democrat, sponsored the legislation in the House, along with Rep. Tom Reed, a New York Republican. The Senate sponsors were Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, and Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri.

Rep. Kennedy said he wanted to ensure that technological research spreads from universities and global companies to small manufacturers in his district. “There’s some opportunity to help invigorate a new era of innovation,” he said in an interview.

Rep. Reed said it took time to persuade Republicans that the bill wasn’t an expensive boondoggle and would help boost manufacturing exports and jobs.

“That was a theme that united all sides,” he said.

While waiting for congressional approval, the Obama administration already has established four institutes, drawing on funding already available in the Defense and Energy departments. The first such institute, launched in August 2012, is in Youngstown, Ohio, and does research on additive manufacturing, often dubbed 3-D printing. An institute in Chicago is focused on digital manufacturing technologies, such as creating better electronic links between designs and work on the shop floor. An institute in Detroit is working on lightweight metals for cars and other vehicles, while one in Raleigh, N.C., looks into energy-efficient electronic components and devices.

Write to James R. Hagerty at

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