The Senate Commerce Committee took an important step toward revitalizing American manufacturing competitiveness on April 9 when it completed mark-up of the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act (RAMI).

The bipartisan legislation, cosponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), would create a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI).

This network of 15 public-private institutes is designed to accelerate manufacturing innovation in key technologies and industries, while also bridging the gap between basic research performed at U.S. universities and research laboratories, product development by U.S. manufacturers, and manufacturing these products at scale in the United States.

While this is a positive and important step, it also highlights how far behind we are as a nation at promoting manufacturing innovation and competitiveness. In fact, many don’t even recognize we have a problem.

A host of pundits, and even some policymakers, have argued that American manufacturing is rebounding and therefore new policies are not necessary, while others have contended that manufacturing doesn’t matter anymore so we needn’t focus on it at all.

 

This is despite the fact that the United States lost 5.7 million manufacturing jobs during the 2000s, has accumulated a $360 billion trade deficit in advanced technology products since 2010, and now ranks forty-third out of forty-four nations in the rate of progress in improving its innovation-based competitiveness.

It’s a little like Nero fiddling while Rome burned.