| YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio/WASHINGTON, March 18
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio/WASHINGTON, March 18 Along the
banks of the Mahoning River in the struggling Ohio steel town of
Youngstown sits a once-abandoned furniture warehouse that has
been converted into a sleek new laboratory.
Inside is a Silicon Valley-style workspace complete with
open meeting areas and colorful stools. Several 3-D printers hum
in the background, while engineers type computer codes that tell
the machines how to create objects by layering materials.
The lab, called America Makes, is the first in a series of
so-called "manufacturing innovation hubs" that President Barack
Obama has launched with the promise that they could revitalize
America's industrial sector and spur jobs growth in downtrodden
communities like Youngstown. Seven more hubs are planned by the
end of the year, including projects in Chicago, Detroit and
Raleigh, North Carolina, that will follow the Youngstown model
of bringing together businesses, non-profits and universities to
pursue technological breakthroughs.
But after more than a year of operation, the Youngstown hub
underscores the challenges facing Obama's goal of ensuring "a
steady stream of good jobs into the 21st century," as he put it
in remarks at a White House event last month.
One of the biggest challenges is the nature of factory
innovation itself, which often reduces, rather than bolsters,
the need for workers who aren't very skilled. That means the
manufacturing initiative could help create jobs for people with
highly specialized skills, such as engineers, but it may do far
less to help people struggling to find work after the shuttering
of local steel mills.
Three-D printers, the focus of the Youngstown project, are
an example of this. Once they are programmed and loaded with raw
materials, they work their magic with nary a human hand. If they
are ever widely adopted, researchers say a big reason will be
that they use less labor than traditional manufacturing.
"A lot of the equipment can be run automatically, so it is
less labor demanding," said Don Li, senior manager of process
modeling at RTI International Metals, a Pittsburgh-based
titanium manufacturer working on an America Makes project.
Former White House economic adviser Gene Sperling, who
conceived the administration's manufacturing initiative, said
the White House was focused on the "spillover impact" from new
manufacturing projects, which also create jobs at suppliers.
"When you look at manufacturing and the jobs it provides in the
supply chain and in communities, these are middle class,
high-skill jobs," he said.
Research by Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University
of California, Berkeley, has found that each factory job on
average supports 1.6 additional jobs outside manufacturing. A
job in a high-tech industry can support even more outside
employment because high wages for engineers and programmers can
spur more spending at restaurants, stores and other businesses.
When Obama first proposed the manufacturing initiative, he
asked Congress for $1 billion for 15 centers but the request has
gone nowhere amid Washington's political gridlock so he is
funding the projects through existing budgets. Ultimately, he
would like to set up 45 centers around the country.
The Department of Defense, which is contributing the federal
funding to the Youngstown initiative, believes its demand for
high-tech goods will help the broader economy, said Elana
Broitman, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for
manufacturing and industrial base policy.
The Youngstown hub is still in its very early stages but so
far, at least, there are no obvious signs of a wider
impact. About 29,600 people held factory jobs in the Youngstown
metro area in January, the latest month for which data are
available. That's actually slightly lower than the number of
manufacturing jobs there when the administration awarded the hub
to Youngstown in August 2012 and when it opened its doors that
October. Total employment in the area was flat in 2013, while it
Of six organizations in Youngstown and Cleveland - the
nearest major city in the state - working on America Makes
projects, none has made new hires for the work. But the
non-profit managing the initiative, the National Center for
Defense Manufacturing and Machining, has added 10 employees to
run the lab and oversee the application process, said executive
director Ralph Resnick.
Asked whether the administration had set goals for job
creation at the manufacturing hubs, White House spokesman Robert
Whithorne declined to say, noting that the hubs "are just
getting started." He said there was a lot of interest among
manufacturers in joining the hubs, showing the potential to
DECADES OF JOB LOSSES
To understand the harsh reality of factory job losses in
Youngstown and other once-thriving communities along America's
Rust Belt, one needs only to follow the Mahoning River upstream
from America Makes to see how that theme has played out.
About 15 miles north in Lordstown, Ohio, a General Motors
assembly plant has cut its workforce to 4,500 from 13,000 over
the last 30 years. Further north in Warren, the sound of
wrecking balls demolishing the area's last major steel mill
echoes across the water.
Lloyd Carmichael, 57, was one of 1,100 workers who lost his
job in June 2012 after RG Steel declared bankruptcy. He is now
learning to be a carpenter but expects to be earning about half
of his previous salary.
"When you look in this area for industrial jobs, there's
nothing," Carmichael said.
After rising for decades, U.S. factory jobs peaked in 1979,
and then declined due to technological advances and foreign
competition. The decline accelerated after Washington lifted
trade barriers to China following its entry into the World Trade
Organization in 2001.
Obama and other Democrats have long sought to ensure that
their economic message resonates with blue-collar workers like
Carmichael. But Republicans have seized on the economy's
sluggish recovery from the Great Recession to try to court
workers in states like Ohio that are closely divided between
Democrats and Republicans.
Wrestling with how to spur faster economic growth in the
summer of 2011, Obama asked White House aide Sperling for a list
of policy ideas. Sperling looked abroad for models of success.
Manufacturing's share of total U.S. jobs stood at just below
10 percent, half its level thirty years earlier. Americans
seemed to be losing ground to other countries. In Germany, a
rich nation that specialized in making high-precision goods,
about 20 percent of workers still clocked in at factories.
Sperling drew inspiration from Germany's Fraunhofer
Institutes, which bring together universities, companies and
government to turn scientific knowledge into practical
applications. Obama liked this idea.
For the Youngstown project, the administration organized a
competition to win $30 million in federal money. The money is
then allocated to research projects led by partners in the
consortium, who must match the federal funds and explain how
their project might benefit government agencies.
Current projects range from a cooling system for satellites
to repairing aging metal casts, without which legacy equipment
like B-52 bombers could be retired. Researchers are also toying
with printing a light-weight prototype of a drone.
Ashley Martof, an intern at America Makes, is studying 3-D
printing as an industrial engineering major at Youngstown State
University. Her friends and family tell her she is wasting her
time because manufacturing jobs have dwindled.
"I tell them there will not be as much need for the working
class, but there will be more engineers," Martof said.
The availability of such jobs probably won't do anything to
help people like Dennis Church, 60, who is retraining for a
maintenance job after 31 years at RG Steel.
"Those are tech jobs," Church said. "My personality is more
(Reporting By Julia Edwards and Jason Lange; Editing by Caren
Bohan and Martin Howell)