Few topics have been more fraught than the fate of U.S. manufacturing. The sharp loss of manufacturing jobs since 2008 has triggered legitimate concern that America’s best days may have passed.

Even as recent leading indicators suggest more economic momentum, job growth remains at best sluggish and manufacturing has seen only marginal gains — having shed more than two million jobs in 2008-2009, and millions more since the peak in the late 1970s. Manufacturing accounted for slightly less than 20 million jobs at the peak in 1979. Now it’s barely 11 million.

The picture is even bleaker considering the population, since the labor force is considerably larger today. This has led to a widespread conviction that the core of the potent U.S. economy is being hollowed out.

So it is not surprising that Washington’s latest highly-touted initiative seeks to rejuvenate American manufacturing and restore lost jobs. President Barack Obama unveiled an initiative Wednesday in North Carolina designed to foster high-tech manufacturing for the long term.

With money from the Energy Department, the Raleigh-Durham area — already home to several leading universities that are part of what is called a research hub — will develop an innovation institute to foster high-tech manufacturing, such as semiconductors. The promise is that such manufacturing and its attendant jobs are vital to competing in today’s global economy. Though the administration can fund a number of these without Congress acting, the White House has called on the legislature to pass funding for an additional 45 such centers around the country.