National Manufacturing Strategy? Stop Talking-Just Do It!

By: Michele Nash-Hoff, Can American Manufacturing Be Saved

In the past three years, one business or government leader after another has proposed developing a national manufacturing strategy. For example, the Information Technology& Innovation Foundation (ITIF) released a report, “The Case for a National Manufacturing Strategy,” in April 2011 that builds the intellectual case for why the United States needs a serious national manufacturing strategy. The Alliance for American Manufacturing is a strong proponent of a national manufacturing strategy, and has repeatedly put forward a “Plan to Save Manufacturing,” calling for a national manufacturing strategy to reverse the decline in U.S. manufacturing and the good jobs that come with it. A bill to set up a process to develop a national manufacturing strategy even passed the House of Representatives in 2010 by a vote of 379 to 38, but died in the Senate.

Now, a new bill, “The American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act” (HR-5865), co-sponsored by Illinois Reps. Dan Lipinski (D) and Adam Kinzinger (R), passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee on June 20, 2012 and was sent to the House as a whole for consideration.

It is great to hear issues concerning U. S. manufacturing being discussed at this level, but it’s time to stop talking about developing a national manufacturing strategy and just do it. There is no assurance that this bill will not suffer the same fate as the similar 2010 bill because just 29% of all House bills reported favorably by committee in 2009–2010 were enacted.

Four Democrats and six Republican signed on as co-sponsors of the bill while it was being considered in committee, and four Democrats and two Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors since then for a total of 18 co-sponsors. It will take many more Republican sponsors to ensure that it is brought to a full vote of the House this fall.

The bill summary states, “H.R. 5865 would establish the American Manufacturing Competitiveness Board within the Department of Commerce to advise the President on issues affecting manufacturing in the United States. The board would be required to perform a comprehensive analysis of the nation’s manufacturing sector and, using results from the analysis, develop a strategy to improve the competitiveness of domestic manufacturing efforts. Results from the analysis and strategy would be available to the President to comply with the bill’s requirement to publish a strategy in 2014 and again in 2018 to promote growth in the nation’s manufacturing sector.”

The board would consist of 15 members: five from the public sector appointed by the President, including two governors from different parties; and 10 people from the private sector appointed by the House and the Senate, with the Majority appointing three and the Minority appointing two from each chamber.

In preparing the analysis, the board would be required to study, among other things:

  • The current environment for manufacturing, including government policies—at the international, federal, state, tribal, and local levels—that affect the sector;
  • Forecasts, both short- and long-term, for domestic and international trends in      manufacturing;
  • Actions by federal agencies that affect manufacturing; and
  • Factors that affect the growth and stability of the sector such as workforce skills;
  • Trade, energy, and monetary policies; research and development; and protections for intellectual property.

Using results from the analysis, the board would be required to develop a strategy to improve the competitiveness of the nation’s manufacturing sector. The bill would require the strategy to include recommendations to eliminate or consolidate government programs, improve interaction between the government and the manufacturing sector, and amend any regulations that put the industry at a competitive disadvantage in international markets.

The final report also would be required to include a plan to implement the strategy, including an estimate of the cost to implement it as well as recommendations for ways to cover those costs.

In his press release about this bill, Rep. Lipinski states, “American companies and their workers are operating at a severe disadvantage as they face foreign competitors who benefit from coordinated, strategic government policies that benefit manufacturing,” Rep. Lipinski said. “We need to recognize this reality and bring the public and private sectors together to develop a national manufacturing strategy that specifies recommendations for the optimal tax, trade, research, regulatory, and innovation policies that will enable American manufacturing to thrive. Manufacturing is critical for national security, an essential source of good-paying jobs for the middle class, and drives high-tech innovation. This bill is a fully bipartisan document, and I believe that when the strategy is issued it could have as immediate an impact on U.S. manufacturing policy as the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report had on U.S. science policy when it led directly to passage of the America COMPETES Act.”

In his press release, Rep. Kinzinger states, “Since coming to Congress, I’ve heard from manufacturers in my home state of Illinois about the importance of creating an environment that will allow American manufacturing to thrive in a global economy.”

“Manufacturing is one of the most vital components of our economic and national security. Not only is it the leading industry in terms of value, but it also has the highest multiplier effect. We must encourage an environment that will allow businesses to compete globally. We will not be able to predict where the next growth sector for manufacturing will be, nor should we try to implement a top down government policy that would benefit manufacturing. We should instead insist upon a long-term strategy constructed by private sector and government leaders to focus our attention on the challenges inhibiting our global competitiveness.”

Bi-partisan efforts to revitalize American manufacturing are laudable, but my questions are: What expertise in the manufacturing industry would two governors have to contribute to the board? By what criteria will the board members be selected? Will board appointments be “political plums” awarded to key supporters of the president and the majority party in Congress? Why should we spend an estimated $15 million to set up another board that would take three years to develop a national manufacturing strategy? We could accomplish a great deal towards revitalizing manufacturing in this time period by utilizing work that has already been done.

Anyone involved in efforts to revitalize American manufacturing like myself already has a file drawer or computer full of books, studies, and reports containing recommendations on a national manufacturing strategy. My book, Can American Manufacturing Be Saved? Why we should and how we can has a chapter on “How Can We Save American Manufacturing?” that contains a summary of the recommendations of such organizations as the Alliance for American Manufacturing, American Jobs Alliance, Coalition for a Prosperous America, Economy in Crisis, National Association of Manufacturers, Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, TechAmerica, and the U. S. Business and Industry Council, among others. Of course, it also includes my own recommendations.

We could ask the heads of these organizations to form a committee that would come up with a consensus on a manufacturing strategy that incorporates the most important policies to implement and action steps to take. This committee could work under the auspices of the existing Office of Manufacturing that is under the Department of Commerce, which was set up as a result of the America Competes Act.

In the past seven years since the National Summit on Competitiveness in 2005, there has been a summit or conference scheduled every year on the topic of revitalizing American manufacturing. A first Conference for the Renaissance of American Manufacturing was held in September 2010, and a second Conference on the Renaissance of American Manufacturing: Jobs, Trade and the Presidential Election was held on March 27, 2012. This one-day conference focused on solutions to the decline of manufacturing in America and highlighted manufacturing and trade as critical issues for the upcoming presidential and congressional elections. I am sure that some of the participants in these conferences would also be interested in being involved with the committee itself or a subcommittee.

More recently, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report, “Capturing Domestic Competitive Advantage in Advanced Manufacturing,” in July 2012 prepared by the Advance Manufacturing Partnership Working Group. This group makes 16 specific recommendations for policy steps to take to enable the United States to resume its leadership in the manufacturing industry and strengthen our position in advanced manufacturing technologies.

In other words, why do we have to “keep reinventing the wheel?” Let us review the recommendations on a national manufacturing strategy we already have and select the ones that will have the most impact to enable the United States to have a real renaissance in the manufacturing industry. It is time for our leaders to “stop fiddling while Rome burns” and show some real leadership. Action, not lip service is what we need now!

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