U.S. Manufacturing Leaders Say Government is Failing to…

U.S. Manufacturing Leaders Say Government is Failing to…

Jan 7, 2016

“U.S. Manufacturing Leaders Say Government is Failing to Deliver the Help They Need”

By Jeff Moad, Manufacturing Leadership

With several U.S. presidential candidates promising to reinvigorate the manufacturing sector and “bring home” manufacturing jobs, and with the White House attempting to keep pace with manufacturing revitalization initiatives emerging from major global competitors including China, Germany, and India, you might expect manufacturing leaders to feel that their industry, at last, is receiving from policy makers the attention and help it needs.

But you would be wrong.

According to a recently-completed survey by the Manufacturing Leadership Council, the vast majority of manufacturers—78%–believe that their federal government is ineffective in supporting and enabling their success, and most (60%) have little faith that that will change over the next 12 months, campaign promises notwithstanding. Only 25% said policy makers have become more aware of and responsive to the needs of manufacturers over the past 12 months.

Manufacturers said governments in Germany and China, in particular, are far more effective than the U.S. federal government in developing and implementing policies that support their manufacturing sectors.

Where are manufacturers most in need of help from policy makers? Overwhelmingly, respondents to the Manufacturing Advocacy Survey said they need help attracting and developing the next-generation manufacturing workforce. Manufacturers also targeted regulatory reform, tax reform, and trade reform. Of much less concern are issues such as healthcare reform, and policy concerning currency, immigration, and energy.

At the same time, 62% of manufacturers said they would welcome increased government support of university research aimed at helping the industry. And most (60%) said the industry would benefit from a  cabinet-level federal government agency devoted to the support and development of manufacturing.

Manufacturers responding to the survey were split on President Obama’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, with 38% expecting a positive impact from it, and 37% expecting a negative impact.

While manufacturers are highly critical of government’s performance in supporting industrial companies and markets, they don’t let themselves off the hook. In particular, manufacturers said they can and should do more to improve the public image of manufacturing. Thirty-four percent of manufacturers described the public’s view of manufacturing as negative or very negative, and they say that this negative perception impacts issues such as workforce development and support for helpful public policy. Most manufacturers say the industry’s public image hasn’t improved over the past two years.

Still, fewer than half of manufacturers responding to the survey say they sponsor apprenticeship programs, and fewer attempt to influence public policy-makers.

Moreover, while most say they have as a goal the improvement of the manufacturing industry’s image, the largest group—47%–said they have not yet created a formal, managed manufacturing industry image improvement program with defined initiatives and goals.

At the same time, many manufacturers admit they haven’t educated themselves about all government-led efforts to support the industry. Forty-three percent of respondents said they are not at all aware of President Obama’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) which is creating a series of public-private advanced manufacturing research institutes around the country. Only 9% of manufacturers said they are very well aware of the program.

Although manufacturers are critical of governments support for the industry to date, some hold out hope that things will improve. Eighty-eight percent said they expect candidates in the approaching presidential election race to articulate a clear plan to support and grow manufacturing.

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