President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday evening was not particularly groundbreaking for the architecture and construction industry. While he spent significant time discussing manufacturing jobs (especially high-tech manufacturing), city infrastructure, and clean energy, the speech lacked many tangible pledges.
On manufacturing jobs—the all-American industry that has felt a pinch in recent years—Obama said that "over half of big manufacturers say they're thinking of insourcing jobs from abroad." That is a fairly weak claim (thinking isn't exactly an action verb), but nonetheless reaffirms the importance of American production. The president also specifically called out the high-tech manufacturing sector, and announced that he would be expanding his university-business "hubs" in Raleigh, N.C., and Youngstown, Ohio to six more locations this year.
In his call to reverse federal research funding cuts, he called out a specific building material as a poster child: "paper-thin material that's stronger than steel." That building material, according to the "Enhanced Livestream" slides released by the White House in conjunction with the speech, is graphene.
Obama also discussed improving infrastructure, which he connected, unsurprisingly, to job creation—"We'll need Congress to protect more than three million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer"—but also to a modern notion of urban design, saying that "in today's global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure." He pledged to do this with or without Congress: "But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible."
Clean energy—another theme repeated year after year—made its annual appearance on Tuesday as well. Obama touted natural gas as well as solar, noting that "Every four minutes another American home or business goes solar, every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can't be outsourced"—again circling back to jobs.
He also said that "Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth," which sounds like a step in the right direction.
But this seems to ignore that the United States dumped 6,702 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2011, and emitted more than double the emissions per capita of the United Kingdom in 2009.
The president also announced a reform effort of job training programs, led by vice president Joseph Biden, which would include "more on-the-job training, and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life."
That "upward trajectory" idea, the hallmark of the American Dream, was somewhat convoluted in this speech. He said that "our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams." Yet what that "dream" means today wasn't clear. While touting the importance of American manufacturing, the president also twice used the example of a factory worker as a baseline from which to grow out of—"the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America's largest automaker" (GM CEO Mary Barra), and "this son of a factory worker just found out he’s going to college this fall" (Estiven Rodriguez).
While housing was not a main focus, Obama did note that "the most important investment many families make is their home, send me legislation that protects taxpayers from footing the bill for a housing crisis ever again, and keeps the dream of homeownership alive for future generations."
The American Institute of Architects released a statement on the speech on Tuesday, attributed to Robert Ivy, FAIA, the Institute's CEO, which notes: "The President's focus on economic mobility is timely, considering that the architecture profession is still struggling to recover from the Great Recession. That's why we are encouraged to hear the President talk about energy and college affordability in such an explicit way."