Local manufacturers will participate in a May 11 roundtable to pitch the Obama administration on industry needs and promote homegrown production.
(TNS) -- A half-dozen leaders from Portland's "maker" community will head to Washington, D.C., next week to join a roundtable discussion on artisan production and handcrafted innovation, part of an Obama administration effort to revive domestic manufacturing.
But some of those same leaders refused an invitation to attend President Obama's trade forum Friday at Nike's headquarters near Beaverton over objections to a trade agreement now being debated in Washington.
The maker movement promotes do-it-yourself, small-scale production. In Portland it includes everything from handmade bags to craft beer, custom bicycles and laptop computers that operate entirely with open-source software.
"There's a misconception that manufacturing is just smokestacks and black lung," said Kelley Roy, founder of a Portland coworking space called ADX where hobbyists and professionals share tools and experience.
The maker community, rooted in independence and a maverick approach to production, is now embraced by big companies and politicians. Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich is a regular attendee at maker events, where he hopes small-scale innovators will find new applications for the company's microprocessors.
President Barack Obama hosted a "maker faire" at the White House last year. This year's May 11 roundtable is an extension of an effort to promote homegrown manufacturing, which has declined dramatically in Oregon and elsewhere in recent decades as mass-production jobs migrated to Asia and other countries with lower labor costs.
The Portland maker scene represents an alternative model, according to Roy, demonstrating that people value locally crafted products. Most of the companies operate small niches in larger markets, but she said cumulatively they account for more than 1,000 Oregon jobs – and maybe several thousand.
That's tiny compared to mass-production industries, and it's an open question whether independent manufacturers can wean Americans from inexpensive, mass-produced items from overseas.
At the White House next week, Roy said she will seek ways to return what was lost as manufacturing moved overseas, specifically knowledge and experience in trades that were once widely practiced across the United States.
"There's a lot of gaps in knowledge. There's a lot of gaps in infrastructure," she said. "There's a lot of gaps in the work force."
Portland's delegation to the White House roundtable will represent a large proportion of the nationwide total, which amounts to roughly 50 overall. Attendees are paying their own way to pitch the Obama administration (they don't expect the president himself to attend) on their needs and compare notes with colleagues from other parts of the country.
"The opportunity to knock heads together with 10 or so different cities is one that I'm looking forward to," said Josh Lifton, former head of engineering at Portland technology company Puppet Labs, now co-founder of Crowd Supply, a Southeast Portland company that helps crowdfund new projects and provides logistical and administrative support to small businesses.
President Obama is in Oregon this week for a fundraising dinner Thursday and a Friday event at Nike promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation deal to reduce trade barriers among countries on the Pacific Rim, from South America to Southeast Asia.
Critics object to the agreement on several points, including the fact that negotiations over the pact were held behind closed doors and details of the pending agreement remain secret. It's highly controversial in Congress, with support and opposition transcending the usual party lines.
ADX's Roy said she was invited to attend the Nike event, and to bring along Lifton and others from the maker community, but opted not to go because they oppose the deal.
"You're making laws in a non-transparent, opaque way," Lifton said.
©2015 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.