Introducing MForesight

A new “think-and-do” tank focused on the future of American manufacturing

Americans of all ages, from all regions, and of all political persuasions share at least one common and specific aspiration for the nation’s economic future:

To see the manufacturing sector succeed.

Manufacturing is crucial for job creation, good wages, defense readiness, and future innovation. Every job created at an advanced manufacturing firm can result in the creation of numerous additional jobs for suppliers, supporting services like sales and finance, and in restaurants, schools, and hospitals in surrounding communities. Manufacturers in the U.S. are responsible for two-thirds of all private sector R&D (PDF) across the country, close to 70% of patents and exports, and offer among the highest average salaries and benefits of any sector (“A Framework for Revitalizing American Manufacturing” PDF, “The Benefits of of Manufacturing Jobs”).

The United States continues to enjoy the fundamentals for success in manufacturing. Our national manufacturing advantages range from unrivaled universities and national laboratories to expansive capital markets and relatively abundant energy to a reliable regulatory context and a proud history of building great products.

Still, it’s no secret that American manufacturing has faced its share of challenges. The last two decades saw the loss of over 5 million U.S. jobs in the sector.

There’s no magic wand for strengthening U.S. manufacturing. It’s a major, multifaceted task that requires leading-edge research, public-private collaboration, sound regulatory processes, world-class workforce training, and a citizenry that’s interested in pursuing manufacturing careers. In short, restoring manufacturing will require creativity, skill, and passion as well as another all-too-rare ingredient: foresight.

For these reasons, upon recommendation by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (“Report to the President: Accelerating U.S. Advanced Manufacturing” PDF), the National Science Foundation and National Institute for Standards and Technology issued an open solicitation in May 2015 to establish a national consortium to provide coordinated private‐sector input on national advanced manufacturing technology research and development priorities.

President Obama meets with his Council of Advisors on Science and Technology

Today, MForesight: The Alliance for Manufacturing Foresight is an independent national think-tank tasked with identifying emerging technologies to enhance the innovation ecosystem, and U.S. manufacturing competitiveness.

The mission is far-reaching:

Serve as a catalyst and a voice of America’s advanced manufacturing community
Engage experts from industry and academia to identify opportunities and challenges related to emerging technologies
Provide a continuous source of intelligence to diverse stakeholders including federal science and technology agencies, the private sector, and academia regarding challenges and opportunities in advanced manufacturing
Assess alignment of public and private research activities with important national priorities
Educate the public about prospects for advanced manufacturing

Why foresight?

In an age of rapid innovation in sectors from computing to energy to bio-science, technology foresight is, increasingly, not a luxury but a necessity.

MForesight works to bring together government agencies, manufacturing firms, and research institutions to scan the horizon for emerging trends and promising opportunities in order to align public and private investment toward areas of greatest potential impact, to anticipate and engage relevant policy questions, to prepare the next generation workforce, and ultimately to gain an edge in national economic competitiveness.

By forecasting future technology trends, government and industry can proactively seize opportunities that lead to economic growth, job creation, improved living standards, and solutions to broad societal challenges.

Foresight isn’t about prognostication or guesswork. Rather it’s about crystallizing consensus among experts through focused workshops. Because diversity of viewpoints is essential to effective forecasting, MForesight draws on a pool of more than 30,000 experts representing a range of industry and academic perspectives. Among these experts and the institutions they represent, MForesight serves as clearinghouse for best practices in technology forecasting methodologies and a broader marketplace of ideas about the future of manufacturing.

The power of platform technologies

Too often, we’ve allowed America’s prospects as a manufacturing power to be left to chance, merely hoping that emerging technologies take hold here. By joining public and private stakeholders together to systematically assess new opportunities and design road maps for technology maturation and workforce development, MForesight adds an element of strategic vision to U.S. manufacturing policy.

One important way to meet this need is by identifying and catalyzing action toward the development of crucial platform technologies — the inventions on which other advancements are built. Based on insights from diverse stakeholders from industry, academia, and government, MForesight will evaluate potential platform technologies on the basis of prospects for economic impact, job growth, likelihood of co-investment by the private sector, impact on multiple industry sectors, and the likelihood of the U.S. gaining a first-mover advantage, among other factors. MForesight can identify opportunities and then accelerate the creation of Public-Private Partnerships and other vehicles to make platform technologies realities.

The future of the manufacturing workforce

America’s prospects as a manufacturing power are inextricably linked to the skills and interests of America’s current and future workforce. Right now, in this respect, there’s a growing challenge.

In 2009, only 18% of new college graduates completed a bachelor’s degree in a technical field like engineering, compared to 24% two decades prior. According to a 2014 survey by Deloitte, a consultancy, manufacturing ranked dead last among millennials as a sector of choice for starting a career (“U.S. Opinions on Manufacturing”). Coupling these sobering facts with the retirement of legions of baby boomers in technical fields, there’s an urgent need for new talent and energy.

MForesight is primed to expand interest in manufacturing careers by building widespread awareness of opportunities and advantages related to relevant career tracks. MForesight is also focused on directly empowering the next generation of manufacturing workers by developing and promoting proven best practices for workforce training.

Rapid-responses to decision-makers’ needs

While manufacturing foresight is fundamentally about planning for the long-term, federal agencies and other key stakeholders often need immediate information about the state of technology and the manufacturing sector in order to make critical decisions about funding, regulatory policy, and other matters. Another important aspect of MForesight’s work is the development of Rapid Response Reports to meet these needs.

When presented with a request from industry, government, or academia on a given matter related to manufacturing, MForesight is equipped to quickly convene a customized, high-level, interdisciplinary expert panel to identify problems and prospects facing relevant stakeholders. Each panel works to produce a Rapid Response Report that addresses a specific need: identification of prospective technologies with cross-cutting appeal across fields, with sufficient maturity to justify significant government and private investment, and for which the United States has opportunity to win a first-mover advantage. In short, MForesight supports federal investment, policy, and industry decisions with cross-sectoral expertise on demand.

Building public awareness on advanced manufacturing

The biggest long-term risk to U.S. manufacturing isn’t foreign competition. It’s too little awareness and interest in the field. Americans need to understand both the prospects and challenges associated with advanced manufacturing in order to ensure adequate national investments and a sufficient pipeline of skills and expertise. For these reasons, MForesight is focused on translating the insights it develops for policymakers into public-facing content — including blogs, newspaper op-eds, videos, and events.

Connecting leaders across sectors

MForesight’s interdisciplinary approach is embodied in its steering committee: The Leadership Council is comprised of 30 industry leaders representing diverse firms from automakers to pharmaceuticals, university officials with expertise in fields from engineering to economic development, and senior figures at the nation’s preeminent think tanks and nonprofit organizations focused on technology, innovation, and manufacturing. While specific MForesight projects call for the creation of ad hoc expert panels, the Leadership Council is a standing network that continually brings diverse perspectives and deep expertise to bear on vexing questions — like how to identify and create value through the “next big thing” in manufacturing.

From semiconductors to the space program, the United States has succeeded in the world’s greatest technical endeavors through the power of foresight. MForesight exists to keep America’s manufacturing sector looking ahead.

The MForesight Blog on Medium

Check this space for insights, analysis, and announcements on the future of U.S. manufacturing