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A New Tech Alliance Looks to Reclaim U.S. Industrial Leadership

July 9, 2024

Illustration: Aida Amer/Axios

Axios Detroit
July 1, 2024
Joann Muller

A new grassroots effort to propel innovation in American manufacturing is flexing its muscle across the Rust Belt and the Beltway.

Why it matters: Decades of globalization have left U.S. industry dependent on foreign supply chains — and at risk of falling behind China and other countries.

  • The way back is to out-innovate the rest of the world, movement leaders say.

Driving the news: At a sold-out “Reindustrialize Summit” last week in Detroit, organizers unveiled the New American Industrial Alliance.

  • The trade group plans to advocate for bipartisan, growth-oriented industrial policies and investment in advanced manufacturing.
  • The goal is to ensure growth in the U.S. industrial sector, boosting economic prosperity and domestic productivity.
  • The inaugural summit, held at a Detroit tech hub called Newlab, attracted 700 people from manufacturing, finance, military and government sectors across the U.S.

Zoom in: Participants included companies like Califorinia-based Divergent 3D, whose patented technology harnesses generative AI, 3D printing and automation to drastically reduce the cost and complexity of manufacturing.

  • It already has contracts to produce specialty products for six aerospace companies and seven automakers, including Bugatti, Aston Martin and Mercedes-AMG.
  • “If there ever was a Manhattan Project for manufacturing, this is it,” Divergent founder and CEO Kevin Czinger tells Axios of the new alliance.

Backstory: The Reindustrialize Summit was the brainchild of a handful of young ideologues, including Aaron Slodov, co-founder and CEO of Atomic Industries, a Toyota-backed startup using software to reimagine the moribund U.S. tool & die industry.

  • Slodov says we’re facing an “existential moment” for American manufacturing.
  • “There’s tons of innovation going on right now between AI and robotics, materials and software,” he tells Axios. “A lot of people are looking for places to park money and invest in this space.”

The summit was meant to galvanize such momentum into a more collaborative effort to rebuild U.S. industrial leadership.

  • “This has just been us taking the pulse of what actually is brewing in this country,” says Gregory Bernstein, general partner at Acequia Capital, an early-stage investment company backing Atomic Industries and others.

Between the lines: Geopolitical and national security concerns are also motivators as China’s prominence grows.

  • Globalization didn’t work, these leaders say, because the U.S. wound up giving away working class jobs — and its industrial advantage.
  • “The fact that we can’t make anything here has screwed our ability to stay leaders in the battery industry,” for example, says Austin Bishop, co-founder of Atomic Industries and now a general partner at Tamarack Global, an early-stage investment firm.
  • “Once we lost the ability to make basic batteries, then we missed the entire revolution with cellphones, and leading the lithium ion generation, and then that means we’ve now missed the opportunity to be the leader in [electric] cars.”

What they’re saying: The alliance’s goal is to modernize manufacturing, not re-create the past.

  • “So much of this is not about bringing back the jobs that were necessarily lost in the past because a lot of those jobs are antiquated, quite frankly,” Bishop says.
  • “The way we win is by leveraging tech policy and our peerless capital market structure, and its willingness to invest, to increase the efficiency” of U.S. manufacturing, he says.

What to watch: The group is already drumming up policy support in Washington.

  • “This is the most bipartisan thing in the world,” Bishop says.