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Business news: Southern California getting huge federal manufacturing grant

The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft, scheduled to return to earth May 31 from visit to the International Space Station
The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft, scheduled to return to earth May 31 from visit to the International Space Station

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Southern California used to be a major U.S. manufacturing hub — exporting everything from aircraft to canned tuna. But even in the 21st century, greater Los Angeles is still the number one manufacturing area in North America. The region's manufacturing sector got a financial shot in the arm from the White House Wednesday. 

Southern California will share $1.3 billion with nearly a dozen other U.S. regions, part of the Commerce Department’s Manufacturing Communities Partnership program.

Jack Knott, dean of USC’s Price School of Public Policy, said the region has a reasonably well-educated workforce, vibrant ports to move goods to market, and an international population with strong overseas ties.

Southern California is a manufacturing hub for medical devices, unmanned space vehicles, and fashion. Knott describes contemporary manufacturing as a hybrid.

"Some of the smaller manufacturing runs of fashion clothing will be done in L.A. and then those fashions that really hit, they have partner manufacturing in Asia," Knot said. "The same is true for medical devices and other high tech items."

The grant will be used to meet some of the challenges: Access to investment capital; ensuring that community colleges and universities work together to provide the right kind of training; getting engineering schools to provide the research and development needed by companies; and helping communities attract manufacturing. 

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and 20 of the state's Congressional members lobbied the Obama administration for the grant. Mayor Garcetti said the city's been "aggressive" in its efforts to leave the recession behind. "Today's announcement is the result of us being loud and clear in Washington that we're serious about investing in jobs here in California."

L.A. Democrat Tony Cárdenas called California the "hub of innovation in the United States, and our manufacturing workers are second-to-none." He said California is home to 17 percent of United States aerospace production, with 80 percent of aerospace workers living in the Southern California region. In 2011, the aerospace industry in Southern California produced more than $31 billion in goods. 

In addition to the cash, the Department of Commerce says communities will also receive a 'dedicated federal liaison at each of these agencies that will help them navigate available federal resources.'