Dow chief executive Andrew Liveris will share leadership of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership with MIT president Susan Hockfield

President Obama has pledged over $500 million (?312 million) to jumpstart an initiative aimed at recovering US manufacturing leadership by investing in emerging technologies. But his appointment of the chief executive of chemical giant Dow, Andrew Liveris, to co-chair that effort has drawn criticism. 

The Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), announced on 24 June, will bring together industry, academia and the federal government to further develop cutting-edge technologies that can create high quality manufacturing jobs in the US and enhance the nation’s global competitiveness. Dow is the only chemical company among the 11 manufacturers that are participating in the AMP, to be co-chaired by Massachusetts Institute of Technology president Susan Hockfield. 

’Investing in technologies such as information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology will support the creation of good jobs by helping US manufacturers reduce costs, improve quality and accelerate product development,’ the White House said. 

Under the AMP, federal agencies will receive $300 million to co-invest with industry in innovative technologies that could boost domestic manufacturing capability. Initial investments will include: small, high powered batteries; advanced composites; metal fabrication; bio-manufacturing and alternative energy. 

"’If they want truly advanced companies, then that’s not the same Dow that we are familiar with’ " - Rick Hind, Greenpeace

The Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) and the American Chemical Society (ACS) both endorse AMP and support the appointment of Liveris as co-chair. The ACS says Liveris has established himself as a champion in this area by implementing an advanced manufacturing plan at Dow that seeks to drive innovation, promote sustainability and reduce the company’s global footprint. Indeed, Liveris has written a book on the future of US manufacturing, Make it in America: The case for re-inventing the economy, published earlier this year. 

But others are less enthusiastic. Rick Hind, a legislative director with Greenpeace, says Dow is mostly invested in ’dirty, obsolete technology and chemical processes,’ pointing to its production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene and methylene chloride. ’If they want truly advanced companies, then that’s not the same Dow that we are familiar with,’ Hind tells Chemistry World. He also accuses Dow - a multinational company headquartered in Midland in Michigan, US - of trying to roll back environmental regulations on Capitol Hill, and of expanding overseas, at the expense of US jobs, in pursuit of more lax oversight. 

Dow’s large and growing presence abroad is arguably at odds with Obama’s stated goal for AMP to help the US remain a nation that ’invents it here and manufactures it here’. In 2009, the company launched a state-of-the-art R&D centre in China - the Shanghai Dow Center - that now employs 1500 people, including 500 scientists and researchers in 80 labs. Liveris has indicated his proclivity to invest in countries with favourable regulations. He told National Public Radio (NPR) in an interview earlier this year that he uses ’the rules of the road per country’ to decide which of Dow’s operations to keep in the US and which to move abroad. ’I have more regulations coming at me that are not fact-based, not science-based, not data-based,’ Liveris told NPR. ’I’m sitting back waiting for [US] regulatory reform.’ 

Rebecca Trager, US correspondent for Research Europe