Rockefeller: The U.S. Must Continue to Invest in Innovation, Strengthen Manufacturing Sector

Committee hearing builds on promoting federal investments that create jobs and grow economy

November 13, 2013

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C.--Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV today gave an opening statement at the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing titled, "The Role of Manufacturing Hubs in a 21st Century Innovation Economy". Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.

Today, the Committee seeks a solution to our nation’s economic drift away from our commitment to manufacturing. This drift threatens our long-term growth, our position at the forefront of global technological innovation, and our national security. Just last week, we held a hearing about how investments into basic research and development really are the core of American ingenuity. 

If we’re going to continue to lead and compete in the global economy, we have to protect our lead in science and research. But the flow of federal funding isn’t certain right now. That’s why we have hearings in this Committee – we’re worried about the path this country is on and we desperately want to help. Today’s hearing builds on that conversation. Just as R&D will lead to new scientific discoveries and product innovations, these investments are crucial for the long-term growth of the manufacturing sector.   

Innovation and manufacturing have long come together to form the backbone of the American economy.  Great ideas conceived by American scientific minds were then molded and built by American hands. The steel we milled, the automobiles and planes we produced, and the computers we made won us World Wars, spurred our economy, and secured the livelihoods of our great middle class. But, unfortunately, success stories are becoming all too rare. In the last decade, we have wasted promising scientific research and have failed to translate technological success into manufacturing growth and jobs. 

Factories have vanished across the country, and with those factories gone, we’ve lost the jobs, the know-how, and the infrastructure that feed the manufacturing sector and many, many local communities. The list of products we’ve already lost is too long to recite. Laptop computers, flat-panel displays, lithium-ion batteries, solar cells, and semiconductors are all examples of products that were invented here but now are produced overseas. They all have driven – and will continue to drive – the global economy. But the skilled workers, infrastructure, and knowledge to manufacture them are no longer based in the United States.  

Meanwhile, foreign countries are taking the technological innovations created by American hands and brains and using them to their economic advantage. And, these countries are investing in even greater support for their manufacturers to help them bring new, better, and cutting-edge products to market. The United States must do the same – it must continue to invest in programs that help keep production in the United States and commercialize technologies wherever they are conceived.  

Experts say a key problem for U.S. manufacturing is the so-called “valley of death” – the gap between invention and commercialization that dooms many manufacturers today. It is vital that we bridge this gap – that is, we must help transform the brilliant scientific discoveries taking place in university laboratories into real-world applications on the factory floor. Today, we will be hearing about proposals that seek to bridge that very gap.

The proposals would establish a public-private network of manufacturing hubs, each dedicated to a particular technology that holds promise to help America stay ahead of our global competitors. In short, these hubs would help our economy by lending a hand where the free market doesn’t work well – the risky and uncertain period that stands in the way between great inventions and great commercial products. These hubs would leverage our scientific research and close the “valley of death.”

Already, a pilot institute in Youngstown, Ohio, has shown the economic promise of this proposal.  That institute has brought together the private sector, public sector, and academia to solve common problems in additive manufacturing, also known as “3D printing.” This institute is bringing us closer to the day when household products, industrial parts, artificial limbs, and even human tissue can easily and cheaply be created from scratch from a digital code that involves no assembly or parts. The implications of this technology are enormous, and, because of the pilot institute, may soon play a role in strengthening our manufacturing sector and the rest of the nation’s economy. 

I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today on this initiative and their ideas to strengthen U.S. manufacturing, and I thank them for appearing before this Committee.