The U.S. economy added 227,000 jobs in February, the Labor Department reported Friday, but the leap in job creation did not alter the 8.3 percent unemployment rate because people who gave up looking for work are actively seeking jobs again, analysts said.
The stronger-than-expected increase was below the gain of 284,000 jobs in January, but is further sign that the U.S. economy is gradually recovering as companies hire to meet growing consumer demand. The manufacturing sector added 31,000 new workers. In the past three months, manufacturers have added 111,000 jobs.
Since December 2010, the manufacturing sector has generated 316,000 new jobs, or 13.4 percent of all non-farm payroll jobs added during the 14-month period, Chad Moutray, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a statement.
About 400,000 manufacturing jobs have been created during the past two years, the first stretch of sustained growth in the sector since the 1990s, according to the White House.
The construction industry lost 13,000 jobs between January and February, the Associated General Contractors of America said. It characterized the loss as a seasonal correction because many firms were able to get a head start or finish projects sooner in December and January because of mild weather conditions in the United States. In the previous two months, the construction industry added more than 47,000 jobs. Construction employment was up 1.2 percent from February of 2011, the sixth consecutive month it has risen from the same month a year before.
The job gains are still tiny compared to the 2.2 million jobs lost in construction since early 2006.
On Friday, President Obama proposed the creation of a network of up to 15 regional institutes for manufacturing innovation that would help manufacturers with investment and other start-up needs for domestic production. The president's budget, which is subject to congressional approval, proposes $1 billion to create the manufacturing hubs.
The institutes are intended to provide manufacturers with the resources to overcome the cost and risk of commercializing new products and scaling up manufacturing products and processes.
Under the program, industry, universities, community colleges, federal agencies, states and local governments will collaborate to accelerate innovation by investing in industrially-relevant manufacturing technologies with broad applications to bridge the gap between basic research and product development, provide shared assets and ideas to help companies - especially small manufacturers - access sophisticated technology and equipment, and create a top teaching and training environment for advanced manufacturing skills.
Each institute will focus on a defined technology area, such as developing lightweight materials that can improve fuel efficiency and corrosion resistance in automobiles, aircraft, ships and trains. Plastic composites are already a key element of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Other innovations that could be supported more to benefit manufacturers include refining standards, materials and equipment for "3-D" printing and creating a "smart" manufacturing infrastructure that enables companies to immediately draw on huge data flows from instrumented factories in order to improve productivity, optimize supply chains and improve energy, water and materials use.
The White House said it will quickly begin to set up a pilot institute for manufacturing funded from $45 million of existing resources from the departments of Defense, Energy, Commerce and the National Science Foundation. The demonstration program does not require congressional action. The site will be selected by a competitive application process.
Obama has made revitalizing the American manufacturing sector a top priority of his new economic blueprint and has made a pitch for American companies to begin insourcing so that inventions created at home are also made in the United States. The concept of leveraging regional expertise and funds to support new manufacturing ventures is a type of industrial policy followed in some other countries, but which pure free-market capitalists usually criticize as government interference in normal market dynamics.
Obama gave a speech at a Rolls-Royce manufacturing plant in Petersburg, Virginia, that makes discs for jet engines. The company plans to add 140 new jobs at the Crosspointe facility and another 100 jobs in Indiana making components for commercial aircraft engines.
The revival of the U.S. auto sector from the abyss of the recession, aided by federal emergency loans, "shows that when we harness our own ingenuity, our technology, then we control our future. See, America thrives when we build things better than the rest of the world. I want us to make stuff here and sell it over there. I don't want stuff made over there and selling it over here," the president said.
The Rolls-Royce Crosspointe facility is an example of what the administration is trying to accomplish on a national scale with its manufacturing innovation centers. Later this summer, the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing will open. It is an applied research center developed in partnership between eight companies, including Rolls-Royce, the state of Virginia, three Virginia universities and a grant from the U.S. Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration. — Eric Kulisch