News & Views

EWI and The Manufacturing Institute concept: National Innovation Infrastructure

By Mary Wilmoth on Thursday, November 10th, 2011


It’s an exciting time to be at EWI. We have a team working diligently with The Manufacturing Institute and industry leaders on a plan for creating a national “innovation infrastructure” that could alter the future of U.S. manufacturing.

Why does the U.S. need an innovation infrastructure? Just look at what’s happened to our manufacturing industry over the last 30 years without one. We’ve gone from  global rock star to aging guitarist doing the state fair circuit. No longer the lone king-of-the-hill, we are surviving but declining — and not innovating quickly enough.   

If you look at the modern day manufacturing powerhouses — China, Germany, Japan, and the U.S. — the U.S. is the only nation that lacks an innovation infrastructure and government support. This means that while our global competitors enjoy access to advanced manufacturing technologies that are developed through government funding, U.S. manufacturers are pretty much on their own… explaining, at least in part, why U.S. manufacturing is no longer the rock star innovator and producer it once was.  

The graph below (based on 2011 World Trade Organization data) is sobering. During the 1990’s, although the U.S maintained its #1 position, it wasn’t the only horse in the manufacturing race. (What you don’t see on this chart is the way China came out of nowhere to become a big player). Around 2003, Germany surpassed the U.S. in exports. Roughly four years later, China passed us up.  

So what’s next? Will Germany and China continue to outpace us? What other nations are going to come from “nowhere” and threaten our status? Will the U.S. even be in the race 30 years from now???

To me, the only question that matters now is What are we going to do about it?  For starters, we need to level the playing field.  The national innovation infrastructure concept that EWI and The Manufacturing Institute are working on will do just that, and more. We know that U.S. industry is behind the concept (read the story). Now we need to get government on board.

What do you think about a national innovation infrastructure?  Post a comment! Email me (Mary Wilmoth) at mwilmoth@ewi.org. Or talk directly with Chris Conrardy, EWI’s CTO and VP of Technology & Innovation (cconrardy@ewi.org) — the guy behind the concept.

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