President Obama announced a new “manufacturing innovation institute” Wednesday in Raleigh, N.C., part of a plan to bolster manufacturing he unveiled during last year's State of the Union address. But Congress hasn't done much to move the manufacturing initiatives forward -- and the president took lawmakers to task on Wednesday over their inaction.
"Long term, the challenge of making sure that everyone who works hard can get ahead in today's economy is so important we can't wait for Congress to solve it," the president said at North Carolina State University. "Where I can act on my own without Congress, I'm going to do so."
So far, the government has established only one other innovation institute, in Youngstown, Ohio. Congress has introduced legislation related to the president's plan, but failed to pass any bills. Millions of people continue to struggle financially in a job market that has not recovered from the great recession. The manufacturing sector was one of the hardest hit.
Obama laid out a plan that will bring together six universities and 18 companies to form the Next Generation Power Electronics Institute, which will work to develop new technology and create jobs. Obama also said he would be announcing two more such hubs in the coming weeks. “This has to be a year of action,” the president said.
If the innovation hub in Raleigh succeeds in its mission to “to build on the kind of work being done to develop technology that leads to new jobs and entire new industries,” as Obama said in his speech, the jobs are unlikely to offer the same types of protections that many workers enjoyed before the U.S. manufacturing industry collapsed. North Carolina has the lowest union membership rate in the country. The state's unemployment rate is also 8%, above the national level.
The day before Obama unveiled his plan to establish these new manufacturing hubs, the Senate voted down a bill that would have restored long-term unemployment benefits. More than 1 million Americans lost their benefits at the end of last year, and another 1.9 million are set to lose them in the next six months.