When Tom (Andel, the chief editor of this magazine) asked me: “Well, what would you do if you were Secretary of Manufacturing?” I said, “Give me a little time.” He said: “Your next column.”
So what would I do first in my new cabinet post? Ask a lot of questions.
For instance: have you been able to make any sense out of all the recent reports on manufacturing in the United States and the rest of the world? I hear some two million manufacturing jobs left the country in the past half-dozen years. They went to China, Mexico and other low-labor-cost lands. I hear, on the other hand, that the productivity of factory workers in America rose in the second quarter to almost six percent. That’s twice last year’s rate and way above the sluggish two to three percent typical of most of the post-war industrial scene.
Some other questions:
What is the real state of manufacturing here at home? How serious is the “dumping” issue in terms of American manufacturing companies? How dangerous is the situation in terms of national defense needs? How are we faring in terms of investments in modern technology? How can the government help without damaging the free enterprise spirit? Are we doing enough in terms of training and retraining? How can we attract foreign direct industrial investment in the United States?
Further, how can we re-instill pride in production in the American people? How can we elevate the status of industry back to its proper high level? Today, environmentalists and movie stars, rap performers and basketball players are presented to our youth as the standard of social acceptance. Manufacturing engineering doesn’t even show up on the scope.
This new Secretary of Manufacturing’s job would not be to seek protectionism, but rather, fair trade. His job would not be to support management alone; but rather, to promote cooperation in industry focused on mutually acceptable goals. His job would not be to seek special favors, but to focus attention on the supreme importance of industry in terms of the welfare and security of everyone.
We are exporting many jobs in manufacturing, while at the same time we need to import other skills in manufacturing. We seem to be spending billions on cleaning up toxic waste dumps while we spend nothing on creating new industrial areas. We seem to be preparing millions of young people for an abundance of self-esteem while doing nothing in the area of manufacturing education. Every city in America seems to be getting a new aquarium and gentrified neighborhoods, but no new factories. I call that goofy.
As Secretary of Manufacturing, my first priority would be to bring clarity to the situation. A State of Manufacturing Report, perhaps an annual document, would be produced with the best staff help available from economics, industry, labor and others. At the press conference announcing this first report, I would ask President Bush (or whoever is in office at the time) to make a few comments. Perhaps other highly visible top people would attend from time to time. The State of Industry report would form the basis for an action plan designed to keep America the world’s leader in modern manufacturing.
Manufacturing, this all-important topic, must have top-level national attention if we are to first clarify the situation and then bring America back to pride and leadership in manufacturing. Then we need action on programs designed to re-educate Americans—ordinary citizens and politicians, engineers and movie stars, newscasters and columnists—about the wonderful contributions the factory world makes to all of us.
Without leadership in manufacturing, the United States loses leadership in all other fields, as well. Manufacturing needs a top-level spokesperson and a doer. We need a Secretary of Manufacturing who would bring national attention to industry in a positive way and who would lead in programs on its behalf. We already have a Secretary of Agriculture. Farming is important. Is industry any less so?
That’s how I would start in my new job. What would you do?
George Weimer, contributing editor