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President Barack Obama announced Wednesday a $500 million plan to strengthen American textile manufacturing and innovation. The U.S. Department of Defense is spearheading a competition for manufacturers, universities, and nonprofits to establish a new manufacturing hub for revolutionary fibers and textile technologies. Private-sector resources are expected to match the $75 million federal investment dollar for dollar. The proposed Revolutionary Fibers and Textiles Manufacturing Innovation Institute, part of a planned National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, aims to “ensure that America remains at the leading edge of fiber science,” the White House says in a statement.

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Chief among the institute’s priorities will be the exploration of the so-called “technical fibers,” which boast novel properties such as flame resistance, electronics integration, or tensile strength.

“With wide-ranging applications, technical textiles can forge the foundation of protective gear for firefighters impervious to the hottest flames, replicate the sensing capabilities of a smartwatch into a lightweight fabric, or detect when a wounded soldier needs to be treated with an antimicrobial compression bandage,” the White House notes.

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The Obama administration says it wants to leverage the current revival in American textile production. After a decade of decline in U.S. manufacturing during the 2000s, U.S. textile firms are adding jobs for the first time in 20 years. Exports have also increased by 45 percent since 2009.

“[Wednesday’s] announcement builds on this momentum in American textile manufacturing and lays the foundation for future leadership in the production of sophisticated fibers and textile technologies,” a spokesman says.

The President also unveiled the new Supply Chain Innovation Initiative, designed to help small- and medium-sized manufacturers access technologies and resources for improving innovation and productivity.

+ The White House