YOUNGSTOWN - Inside a 12,000-square-foot former downtown warehouse on what previously was a rundown section of Youngstown's West Side, more than 100 educational, community and political leaders from Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania gathered Thursday to see how the future might look.
David Beddard, a manufacturing engineering student at Robert Morris University, was one of several students showing off what it might mean, exhibiting machines they had built using new technology. Beddard's machine made plastic utensils and other products.
It was little more than a month ago that senior members of the Obama administration visited the area to announce funding for a pilot program in the additive manufacturing industry. Thursday, the hub of that program was up and running at 236 W. Boardman St.
The federal program promotes additive manufacturing, which builds materials layer by layer with no waste and is capable of creating complex and highly specialized shapes that can be fitted to a specific machine or tool.
Officials have said the process is 10 times less expensive than conventional materials manufacturing methods, like using molds, and the cost control and advances in weapons manufacturing are valuable assets for the Department of Defense.
Youngstown was selected to be the home of Obama's newly created National Network for Manufacturing Innovation and its pilot institute, National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, or NAMII. Youngstown was picked because of its geography in relation to a regional manufacturing cluster within the Eastern Ohio / Western Pennsylvania / West Virginia "Tech Belt" region.
''We hit rock bottom, and now the phrase that is in Financial Times today is the 'miracle on the Mahoning River' because of what's happening here,'' U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Niles, said to rousing applause. He spoke to more than 100 officials and business and educational leaders crowded under a tent erected on West Boardman Street.
Ryan said Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, anchored by resilient and hard-working residents, will lead the nation out of the recession. But Thursday's event wasn't just about the Valley. It was about new technology and what it might mean around the world.
The federal government put $30 million toward development of the new lab, while a consortium of universities, community colleges, nonprofits and private industry devoted another $40 million to the project.
The funds are to pay staff and purchase additive manufacturing equipment and software and computers needed to operate the center. A federal earmark for $450,000 also was secured by Ryan to help fund the building's renovation, said Barb Ewing of the Youngstown Business Incubator. The new facility is an annex of the Youngstown Business Incubator.
The expectation is that the project will be self-sustaining in less than three years.
Thirteen regional consortiums competed for the project, including groups led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech University, Virginia Tech University and the Edison Welding Institute in Columbus.
The effort to build the winning proposal came from a group of university, private sector and government resources who, according to YBI Chief Executive Officer Jim Cossler, ''met for a solid week at YBI.''