Manufacturing Communities Act Promises Renewal

By Carlos Plaza

Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators voted to advance the Made in America Manufacturing Communities Act (S. 701) in the Senate Commerce Committee. The goal of the legislation is to improve the competitiveness of United States manufacturing by designating and supporting manufacturing communities. A “manufacturing community” consists of at least one institution of higher education, one private sector organization, and one government agency working together to strengthen America’s manufacturing sector by investing in several vital areas, including infrastructure, workforce training and retraining, advanced research, equipment and facility upgrades, and promotion of exports and foreign direct investment.

“Manufacturing drives innovation, provides good-paying jobs and yields quality products that are in demand at home and internationally. Furthermore, public-private partnerships are important for the ability to compete on a national and global scale, said bill co-sponsor Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).

If signed into law, the bill would codify the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP), a successful program started by the Obama administration, which allows communities around the country to receive preferential consideration for federal economic development funds. 24 communities around the country have already been designated “Manufacturing Communities” and have received targeted investment and support to make their regions more competitive.

To date, 24 communities have been granted IMCP designations by the US Department of Commerce.

“While each Manufacturing Community created implementation plans for their unique local conditions and industrial sectors that range from advanced materials to medical devices and food processing, they share a common strategic focus on direct, ongoing collaboration with key local and regional stakeholders, attraction of private investment, and the design and implementation of long-term strategic planning that integrates public and private resources to create broad-based prosperity.”

All of these communities developed workforce training strategies designed to help local schools provide students with the skills needed by their region’s industries. For example, in 2014 a group of colleges, businesses, and government agencies across eight counties in southwest Alabama came together in support of a manufacturing sector led by shipbuilding and a burgeoning aerospace industry. The IMCP community, called Advancing Southwest Alabama, set out to expand training programs in welding at its community colleges, grow on-the-job training for smaller manufacturers, create mobile training labs, and offer pathway programs to help individuals build job-ready skills.

Local partnerships like Advancing Southwest Alabama represent a sensible way to foster the mutual interests of all the individuals and institutions involved in manufacturing. And when you consider the significant role that manufacturing continues to play in the U.S. economy, those interests factor heavily into the general welfare of the country as a whole. However, Americans have been banding together to get the job done since before we were officially Americans (i.e. July 4th 1776), so you don’t need a law to do it. If you’re a welding instructor, fabricator, or government official, take a moment to evaluate your region’s manufacturing ecosystem. Then access the IMPC Toolkit for resources to help advance your local manufacturing economy. Like the website says, “These resources are available to all communities, including those that have not applied for or received IMCP designation.”