CREATE A NETWORK OF MANUFACTURING HUBS
Obama said the government is expanding its program to create manufacturing hubs to bring jobs to parts of the country that have lost businesses to global competition. The first hub, in Youngstown, Ohio, opened in September and was backed by a $30 million government grant and money from companies and nonprofit organizations. It is training workers in a high-tech manufacturing process known as 3D printing. Obama said there will be three more, with businesses partnering with the Pentagon and the Department of Energy. He also said he would ask Congress to create a network of 15 of these hubs.
Obama's comments about more manufacturing hubs answered calls from small business for government help in bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. and in finding workers who have the skills required for changing technologies.
"We're very happy that he emphasized manufacturing," said John Arensmeyer, CEO of Small Business Majority, a lobbying group. "All of our polling shows small businesses support government help for that."
Manufacturers were intrigued.
"I'd love to know the details about what that includes — it may be a very good idea for the country," said Mike Pearson, owner of Union Packaging, a Yeadon, Pa., manufacturer of paper packaging for the food industry.
SPENDING ON INFRASTRUCTURE, CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY
Obama proposed a program to start making the most urgent repairs and upgrades on bridges, pipelines, ports and other parts of the nation's infrastructure. But the big picture approach wasn't reassuring to some owners.
The Detroit manufacturing plant where Corridor Sausage makes its products is about 80 years old and isn't energy efficient, said Corridor's co-owner, Will Branch. He would have liked to hear Obama proposing grants to help companies like his save energy.
"We need grant money toward replacing our equipment," he said. Branch is interested in using solar power and recycled rainwater, but can't afford it.
And Link, the ScienceLogic chairman, believes the nation needs to upgrade high-speed communication networks to make them faster.
"We're not keeping up with the rest of the world," he said. "The Pacific rim is head of us in mobile technology, in high-speed communication."
Obama noted that the U.S. has become more energy self-sufficient. But he called for a greater reliance on clean and renewable energy sources like solar power, and for more research to help the company move away from an oil-based energy economy. He linked his proposals about energy with concerns about what energy consumption is doing to the global climate.
The devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy last fall showed how climate change can affect small business, Arensmeyer said.
"The solutions for climate change are good for the economy."
Throughout his address, Obama talked about the need for improving the skills of U.S. workers. His comments on immigration reform and manufacturing hubs dealt with the country's need for highly skilled workers. He also proposed education programs that would help create a more skilled work force in the future.
There is a need for more skilled workers. Many surveys of small business owners — including the monthly survey conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business — have found that business owners can't find qualified workers for some of their open positions. Owners of high-tech companies and highly specialized manufacturers are among those that have complained about their inability to find workers with the right skills. Many have to do a lot of on-the-job training.
"We're bringing people from school and we're bringing a lot of their skills higher," said Ryan Howard, the CEO of Practice Fusion.
But Obama's approach may not be fast enough. Small businesses need workers with better skills now.
"Some of the comments he made about technology are years down the road," said Rudy Ramon, owner of Artesia Springs, a San Antonio-based company that sells bottled spring and purified water. "What we need is to implement things to help us right now."