WEST VALLEY CITY — Utah's burgeoning manufacturing sector was highlighted Thursday during a visit from a high-ranking member of the Obama administration.
Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecc0a Blank toured a local manufacturing plant as she unveiled an initiative that the federal government hopes will reinvigorate an industry hit especially hard by the Great Recession.
Blank said the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership is an administration initiative aimed at accelerating the growth of manufacturing nationwide and helping communities cultivate an environment for business to create high-paying jobs.
"The idea here is to encourage more U.S. cities to prepare themselves to achieve investments in manufacturing, particularly in advanced manufacturing, in their communities," she told the audience at Hexcel's West Valley City facility. "We have an enormous opportunity right now in the U.S. with our lower energy prices, with our high degrees of productivity in the workforce, to bring investments from all over the world."
Manufacturing has been one of the top drivers of economic growth since 2009, Blank said, and after a decade of losing manufacturing jobs, "we've now created a half-million new manufacturing jobs over these past three years."
Under the new initiative, federal agencies will provide coordinated assistance to manufacturing communities that will align federal economic development resources and help U.S. localities make long-term investments in their public goods in partnership with universities and industry, Blank explained.
The ultimate goal of the program is to help regions become more attractive for manufacturers and supply chains, she said.
The partnership will be led by the Department of Commerce, with support from other federal agencies.
The effort rewards communities that demonstrate plans to attract and expand manufacturing, using targeted investments in workforce training, infrastructure, research and other key assets, Blank said.
The secretary of commerce lauded how Hexcel Corp. has leveraged resources of the public sector, private firms and educational institutions to achieve a successful model of economic development.
Based in Dublin, Calif., Hexcel develops, manufactures and markets lightweight, high-performance structural materials, including carbon fibers, adhesives and composite structures used in commercial aerospace, space and defense, as well as industrial applications.
The company's largest market is commercial aerospace, selling materials to aircraft producers and their subcontractors for use in manufacturing aircraft structure, interiors and engines.
Hexcel is the largest U.S. producer of intermediate modulus carbon fiber, which is used extensively in the manufacture of military aircraft, rotorcraft and space vehicles.
Hexcel's West Valley City facility — established 43 years ago — is the firm's primary manufacturing site for carbon fiber. The plant's employment has increased by 140 percent since 2002 to about 700 workers. Worldwide, the company employs about 5,000 people.
Blank told the audience of about 100 people that America was about 30 years behind on the effort to attract more international manufacturing investment. The Investing in Manufacturing Communities initiative is a step toward making up lost ground, she said.
"Communities need to realize that there is an opportunity, and they need to do strategic planning so that they are thinking proactively about how they attract new business and investments," Blank said.
The federal government also needs to work at building relationships with overseas firms, she added.
"That's why the president is proposing $20 million to support the SelectUSA program," Blank said. "This will allow us to hire more folks both nationally and internationally — professionals who will empower governors and local leaders who increasingly find themselves competing with a foreign city or country for investment dollars."
Under the administration's recently proposed federal budget plan, the Department of Commerce would provide $113 million in funding support — matched with funds from local public and private sources — to coinvest in key projects that can help attract manufacturers and build supply chains.
Projects could include new research or tech transfer programs, major physical infrastructure improvements or a workforce development initiative.
The department's Economic Development Administration also plans to kick off an initial round of up to 25 awards of about $200,000 each.
"These awards, called implementation strategy grants, will encourage more cities and states to build a plan for how they can become a magnet for future manufacturing investments," Blank said.
The objective is clear, she said. "We want to position more American communities to do what you've already done here, to attract more investments and more good jobs by building on the assets you already have."