The way to bring manufacturing back to America

While big technology companies openly boast about moving their factories overseas, the real hope for bringing manufacturing jobs back to America resides among African-American inventors like Lonnie Johnson, Timothy Childs, George White and Roy Clay Sr.

Dr. Johnson has 100 patents to his name, but nothing on the scale of the lithium air battery being developed by his company Excellatron Solid State LLC in a warehouse just off downtown Atlanta. 

This summer, it demonstrated how a model car could be powered by air passing over its battery technology.   As Johnson told CNN, the technology could power full size automobiles with enough resources.  That can give America a competitive edge over all its foreign rivals in the auto industry.

His saga is a familiar one.   For more than a hundred years, we’ve told the story of black inventions with an ending that goes along the lines of the technology was commercially developed by someone else who had access to capital.

Something as familiar as the super soaker water gun can become ubiquitous without knowing that Johnson was the patent holder.

The opportunity to change that capital gap, daunting for all black firms, but even more critical for scientific discoveries, can come about through the unprecedented federal investment in innovation from the Obama administration.

Childs’ TLC Precision Wafer Technology in Minneapolis is one of a handful of African-American technology companies to receive a research and development contract through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Dr. George White also turned his patents in semiconductor design into a company, Jacket Micro Devices, but has turned to other ventures. Even with a track record of success, he finds the search for capital a challenge.

One way to change that equation, particularly for startups, is to begin using angel investment strategies to aggregate small groups of experienced managers who can put critical amounts of small investments to keep innovation going.

The Catapult Innovation Competition, which is an outgrowth of our 50 Most Important African-Americans in Technology, is spreading this technique through local partners.

For more than 30 years, Roy Clay Sr. has demonstrated that manufacturing can thrive in the United States, through his company Rod-L Electronics, particularly by focusing on employing workers from underrepresented labor markets.

One of the reasons for the uneven economic recovery is that the fortunes of large companies have been disconnected from the middle class labor force in the United States.

But inner city factories like those of Excellaton can change that downward slide and boost the prospects of the American economy.

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