Engaging the Business Community to Foster 21st Century Innovation and Manufacturing

America's future prosperity depends on our ability to innovate. It depends on the collective ability of the private and public sectors to generate new ideas and be the first to translate those ideas into new products, services and commercial opportunities both in America and around the world.

This is particularly critical for the U.S. manufacturing sector, which accounts for about one-fifth of the total value of global output. Without a strong manufacturing base, the United States cannot remain globally competitive or maintain its position as an economic and technological leader,- impeding our recovery from the recent economic crisis and future economic growth.

Today's challenges require a greater focus on strengthening our nation's infrastructure - a key pillar to winning the future - which is integral to U.S. innovation and advanced manufacturing capabilities. Twenty-first century manufacturing involves sustainable manufacturing processes, further manufacturing productivity, U.S. leadership in the development of clean technologies from a variety of renewable energy sources, and long-term public investments in research and development that generate new innovations and technologies.

Together, knowledge creation and manufacturing have driven the growth of the U.S. economy, especially since the end of World War II, and have been strategic assets to our competitiveness. In spite of these great strengths, current trends point to a significant decline in U.S. manufacturing capability. The United States is now the world's number two supplier of advanced technology products. In 2008, for the first time, more than half of U.S. patents were awarded to companies outside the United States.

Unless we act, these trends will only continue and the U.S. will lose its competitive edge.

I am honored today to kick off one of the first in a series of business roundtable discussions. Coordinated by the White House Business Council, these roundtables will give me and other senior officials an opportunity to hear directly from the business community and engage in meaningful conversation on how best to support their growth and success.

These are issues that are at the core of my agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Questions like: How can the government support an environment that fosters not only technological innovation but also domestic development and the manufacture of that technology? Or, how can federal programs be better coordinated to help small- and medium-sized firms access the capital they need to grow?

Two other business roundtable groups are meeting today. One in New York City, with a panel of senior administration officials including Michael Strautmanis, Deputy Assistant to the President and Counselor for Strategic Engagement to the Senior Advisor; Don Graves, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Small Business, Community Development and Housing Policy at the U.S. Department of Treasury; David Hinson, National Director, Minority Business Development Agency; Ari Matusiak, Executive Director, White House Business Council; and Michael Blake, Associate Director for African American and Minority Business Outreach at the White House.

And in Tucson, Arizona, Bryan Erwin, Director of the International Trade Administration's Advocacy Center, will be at a roundtable being hosted by Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, Inc. to meet with Tucson businesses and hear from them how business and the economy fare in southern Arizona.

The Obama Administration plans to hold at least 100 of these roundtable discussions around the country between now and the end of the year. Each meeting will engage a couple dozen leaders from the local business community, focusing on the needs of their region and industry sectors.

At today's roundtable hosted by the University of Michigan, I was joined by Associate Vice President of the University Marvin Parnes, and more than 60 business and community leaders to discuss issues critical to the Michigan community in rebuilding and sustaining its capabilities in advanced manufacturing. You can find more information about our discussion in the coming weeks on the NIST website at www.nist.gov.

Patrick Gallagher is the Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology
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