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Why America Needs a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation

Creating a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation should be a priority for policymakers.

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.
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