WASHINGTON — President Obama upped the ante in his push for investing in Made in USA on Wednesday, launching a competition for a $150 million public-private investment in a new textile manufacturing innovation institute.
“After a decade of decline in U.S. manufacturing during the 2000s, the American textile industry is adding jobs for the first time in two decades, increasing shipments by nearly a fifth since the recession, and winning globally with a 45 percent increase in exports since 2009,” the White House said. “Today’s announcement builds on this momentum in American textile manufacturing and lays the foundation for future leadership in the production of sophisticated fibers and textile technologies.”
Employment at U.S. textile mills increased to 233,900 in February from 230,700 a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The competition, to be overseen by the Department of Defense, is the ninth manufacturing innovation institute competition covering a wide range of advanced technologies launched by the Obama administration. It will be open to leading manufacturers, universities and nonprofit organizations.
Dubbed the “Revolutionary Fibers and Textiles Manufacturing Innovation Institute,” it will seek to “ensure that America remains at the leading edge of fiber science,” through a $75 million public investment that will be matched by more than $75 million of private investment in researching, prototyping and commercializing fibers with “extraordinary properties,” the White House said.
“Known as technical textiles, these modern-day fabrics and fibers boast novel properties ranging from being incredibly lightweight and flame resistant, to having exceptional strength and electronic sensors,” the White House said. “With wide-ranging applications, technical textiles can forge the foundation of protective gear for firefighters impervious to the hottest flames, replicate the sensing capabilities of a smartwatch into a lightweight fabric or detect when a wounded soldier needs to be treated with an antimicrobial compression bandage.”
The U.S. textile industry is in the midst of a resurgence that has seen millions of dollars in fresh investment, particularly in the South, in the wake of rising costs in China and labor woes throughout much of Asia. A portion of the revival has come from Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s pledge to invest $50 billion in Made in USA products over 10 years, which the retail giant has said will ultimately amount to $250 billion. Tied to that was Peds Legwear’s $16 million facility in Hildebran, N.C., that opened last week as part of an investment the company said could create more than 200 jobs in the state. Peds reshored production with the investment in the facility starting last year and has plans to expand by investing an additional $8 million, bringing the Canadian firm’s total U.S. investment to $24 million.
About 650 textile plants closed in the U.S. between 1997 and 2009, according to the National Council of Textile Organizations, costing hundreds of thousands of American jobs. Now that tide has turned, with some 65 textile-related projects in the U.S. with an investment value in excess of $1.39 billion, including 32 projects worth $999 million in Georgia and North Carolina alone, in the works, according to NCTO.
The White House and Department of Commerce also unveiled a report Wednesday outlining recommendations for strengthening the supply chain for small manufacturers by focusing on public-private partnerships.
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said, “The Obama administration is committed to strengthening American manufacturing, a key component to our economic recovery. The United States has added 877,000 manufacturing jobs since February 2010, the fastest and strongest growth since the 1990s. Our small manufacturing firms have played an important role in this recovery, and as today’s report by the Department of Commerce shows, form the backbone of U.S. supply chains. Strengthening our supply chains is critical to ensuring the long-term competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers of all sizes.”
The report also said, “These networks are under stress. From 2000 to 2010, manufacturing output and investment stagnated as companies offshored production previously done domestically. The U.S. supplier base weakened, raising doubts about the future of manufacturing’s contribution to American innovation. Small manufacturers then and now face steep barriers to innovation — from invention, to commercialization, to the diffusion of new technology.”
The White House said small manufacturers are only 60 percent as productive as large manufacturers. The report also noted large manufacturers have a “critical role to play in cultivating the capabilities of small firms in their supply chains and spurring cross-pollination of expertise across firms, as does the government, which should convene supply chain “consortia” to develop new technologies and highlight best practices, the report said.
To that end, the administration plans to convene a “Supply Chain Innovation Roundtable” later this year, bringing together chief executives of large manufacturers that are committed to partnering with small businesses in their supply chains and to improve produce design and process engineering.
Several agencies also announced additional federal efforts to help small firms adopt cutting-edge technologies and improve information flow within supply chains.