NMW 2005: U.S. Commerce Dept. seeks partnership, input from manufacturers

Chicago, IL—Visitors, exhibitors, and other manufacturing professionals at National Manufacturing Week 2005, March 7-10 at McCormick Place, listened to and asked questions of three experts during the show's second-day keynote/town hall meeting, 'The State of U.S. Manufacturing.'

By Control Engineering Staff March 9, 2005

Chicago, IL— It’s nice to know what’s going on in U.S. manufacturing now, but it’s even more useful to learn what’s likely to happen in the future. To this end, visitors, exhibitors, and other manufacturing professionals at National Manufacturing Week 2005 , March 7-10 at McCormick Place, listened to and asked questions of three experts during the show’s second-day keynote/town hall meeting, ‘The State of U.S. Manufacturing.’

John Engler, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and Michigan’s former governor, introduced two fellow panelists: Al Frank, the first U.S. Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Services at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Don Wainwright, chairman of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Manufacturing Council.

Engler reported that NAM’s survey for 2005 found that 65% of its respondents are already actively involved in the export market, and that the organization has four main goals. These include:

  • Reducing production costs for U.S. manufacturers, who he says face a 22% cost disadvan-tage compared to international manufacturers;

  • Leveling the playing field and allowing international opportunities for U.S. manufacturers, so they can compete in areas where, for example, insufficient laws fail to prevent piracy of products or where tariffs impede market access.

  • Strengthening the future U.S. workforce by supporting math and science education, which wil be aided by NAM’s new ‘Dream It, Do It’ campaign, which is encouraging young people to consider careers in manufacturing. NAM’s survey found that 30% of its respondents report that many U.S. manufacturing jobs remain unfilled because employers can’t find people with the right skills.

  • Fostering an environment in the U.S. that encourages manufacturing in general.

As a former California-based floor covering manufacturer, Frink reported that he easily empathized with the concerns that affect U.S. manufacturers, as well as the worries that keep them up at night, such as sometimes wondering if they’ll be able to make their next payroll. Since being appointed in 2004, Frink adds that he’s visited numerous manufacturers, and added that the U.S. Commerce Department and its recently established Manufacturing Council have held 24 roundtables, identified 57 initiatives, and is now focusing on 18 major goals, three of which already have been turned into white papers. Wainwright says these efforts include:

  • Supporting tort reform to limit damaging litigation;

  • Reining in uncontrolled health care costs;

  • Seeking greater access to international markets; and

  • Supporting increased education and training.

‘We’ve had many recent challenges and several years of recession, but many manufacturers are reporting that they had a successful 2004,’ said Frink. ‘However, we still have a 22% cost barrier that U.S. manufacturers have to overcome before they can even begin competing interna-tionally. We talk a lot about offshoring, but we’re forcing companies offshore with these barrier costs and their damaging effects.

‘I’m an optimist. If we can reduce this burden for manufacturers, then their abilities and traditional work ethic will continue to make U.S. manufacturing the marvel of the world.’

Frink also told the keynote’s audience that, ‘I’m from the private sector, and I know that the bottom line is just a measure of how far you’ve come from where you’ve been to where you need to be. So, while I report to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, I’m also accountable to you, and you will get the best I’ve got.’

Wainwright echoed many of Frink’s sentiments, and called on NAM’s members and U.S. manufacturers to contribute more input in helping to form the rules and regulations that affect them. ‘This is like the quality control process in manufacturing. You have to participate at the beginning of the process, and it’s the same with government,’ said Wainwright to NMW’s visitors. ‘We have the process in place, but now you have to make sure that the Manufacturing Council hears you, so we can begin to control the burden on he backs of U.S. manufacturers.

‘We no longer want to have regulations that simply come down from above, but instead have regulations that we can all live and work with.’

Wainwright added that, ‘Many manufacturers report that 2004 was the first time they’ve been profitable in four years. Lean manufacturing and other efforts will help them keep costs down and compete, but they also need to step outside their markets; take a better look at their needs; renew themselves; see where they can fit in now; change themselves where necessary; and help make sure the government maintains a level playing field. As manufacturers, we have to get out there, and show, tell, and do our story.

‘We’ll make sure that the U.S. Commerce Department’s Manufacturing and Services division is well established, and that U.S. manufacturers will carry a big footprint in Washington, D.C.’

Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Jim Montague, news editor