RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — President Barack Obama on Wednesday sought to push Congress to promote 21st-century manufacturing jobs by establishing hubs where universities and companies work together to invent, design and make new products.
The first such hub will be based at North Carolina State University and the Obama administration plans to announce in coming weeks two more hubs, led by the Pentagon, to foster digital manufacturing and modern metals innovation.
The White House wants to establish up to 45 such institutes, but that will require legislation from Congress so they are funded. The first three are being funded with existing resources.
Obama was expected to foreshadow part of his State of the Union Address during a speech at North Carolina State promoting advanced manufacturing, which many believe is key to an economy that offers well-paying jobs to middle-class workers.
"The country that figures out how to do this first, and the companies that figure out how to do this best, they're going to be the ones that attract the jobs that go with them," the president said.
The initial consortium will seek to invent, design and make new, more efficient semiconductor chips and power devices. Headquartered in Raleigh, it will receive $70 million over five years from the U.S. Energy Department and at least $70 million more from the universities, businesses and the state, the White House said.
"We have a great collection of scientists here and we're in a part of the country, a hub in the United States, where a lot of this activity is turned into products," N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson said.
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., said the project would create or sustain 1,000 jobs in its first five years.
The center would do little for the blue-collar workers who lost their jobs in the recession, but could prepare for the future as manufacturers continue a decades-long move toward robots and programmable machines that require higher education, University of North Carolina Charlotte economist John Connaughton said.
"The skill mismatch is enormous. It's not the kind of gap you can close by going to technical school for a year or 18 months," he said.
Still, he predicted a rebounding economy this year would recover all the jobs lost in the recession.
North Carolina manufacturing and construction jobs are expected to see the biggest boosts in 2014, a year in which the state finally sees a sustained recovery from the lingering effects of the Great Recession, Connaughton predicted in a report released Wednesday.
The consortium includes six other colleges and national laboratory. The 18 businesses taking part in the shared research and worker training include Cree, John Deere, RF Micro Devices, Toshiba International and Vacon.