Peters calls for national institute of manufacturing

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township (file photo)

Washington — Michigan Sen. Gary Peters is calling for the creation of a new federal agency modeled after the National Institutes of Health to serve as a hub for federal manufacturing programs and to boost manufacturing to a national priority. 

Peters, a Democrat running for reelection to a second term, says the decline in U.S. manufacturing in recent decades is due in part to policy decisions driven by Washington, and he aims to change that.

Peters noted that as recently as 1980, five of the top 10 metropolitan areas with the highest average earnings were in Michigan including Flint, Detroit and Saginaw, according to the book "Jump-Starting America," by Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson.

No Michigan communities made the list as of 2016.

"In recent years since our country's economic policies have shifted that other industries like technology and health care, and as a result of this shift communities like Flint and Detroit have seen their economic opportunity decline, while regions like Silicon Valley and Boston have prospered," Peters said in a speech Tuesday at an advanced manufacturing summit in Washington. 

"Policy choices help propel some industries and some regions to success, while failure to invest in manufacturing has disadvantaged communities in Michigan, as well as across the entire heartland."

Peters has not yet introduced legislation to create a National Institute of Manufacturing but is drafting it with input from manufacturers and academics around Michigan and the country and seeking bipartisan co-sponsors. 

“For two decades, we've been inventing here, manufacturing over there. So we are creating knowledge but not wealth in terms of creating jobs or national security,” said Sridhar Kota, the University of Michigan engineering professor who organized Tuesday’s conference. 

“So we are really subsidizing research and development for other countries, because we don't have a national strategy or plan or what to do with that our good ideas.”

Peters said the United States has a critical need for a greater focus on manufacturing, workforce development and research and development as countries such as China, India and South Korea have already implemented national manufacturing plans, including several projects competing directly with the U.S. auto industry. 

"To keep up with an increasingly competitive global marketplace, this broad and dynamic industry needs a comprehensive national strategy, backed by strong policy guidelines and sustained federal investments to take advantage of emerging opportunities and retain our position as the world's leader in manufacturing," Peters said.

Under Peters' vision, the institute would bring together under one roof the "patchwork" of 58 federal programs focused on manufacturing across 11 executive branch agencies, according a tally by the Government Accountability Office. 

"For far too long, Congress has been taken a very piecemeal approach to manufacturing. Federal programs that support manufacturing are scattered across different agencies and are siloed from one another,"  said Peters, who serves on the Senate Commerce committee. 

That means the programs don't always work in concert.

"In some cases, there are layers and layers of bureaucracy that prevent a good idea from ever seeing the light of day," Peters said. 

"We cannot let bureaucracy and disjointed programs stifle innovation. We can't allow government to impede advances in manufacturing. It's simply not acceptable and right."

Uniting the programs under one umbrella will boost coordination, reduce overlapping efforts, improve efficiency and strengthen the government's ability to respond to evolving national needs, Peters said.

Similar to the NIH, which established incentives to combat the diseases such as cancer and HIV/AIDS, the National Institute of Manufacturing would have directorates focused on technology development, industrial commons, education and workforce, and small and medium manufacturers.

Peters envisions the director of the institute serving as a kind of manufacturing "czar" — or chief manufacturing officer —  charged with establishing and executing a national manufacturing policy and serving as the public "face" of the effort. 

"This will give our nation's manufacturing programs a higher profile, which will hopefully drive Congress to provide steady investments to these programs," he said.