U.S. Secretary of Manufacturing?

May 1, 2003
Why not? I cant think of an idea that makes more sense. After all, as Robert J. Harris says: We have a Secretary of Agriculture, why not a Secretary of

Why not? I can’t think of an idea that makes more sense. After all, as Robert J. Harris says: “We have a Secretary of Agriculture, why not a Secretary of Manufacturing?” “Rob” Harris is managing director of the Industrial Fasteners Institute (IFI), Cleveland.

The IFI is also one of many manufacturing groups that make up what is called CITAC or the Consuming Industries Trade Action Group in Washington, D.C. They are dedicated to supporting and enhancing this country’s industrial base. Their members suggest consideration of domestic content laws like China’s for example, which are often as high as 95 percent.

Anyone in America who has bought anything in recent years must have noticed that the sticker on the bottom says, more often than not, “Made in China.” These products, ranging from appliances to toys to machine tools to baskets, brooms and nuts and bolts, are often of good quality and sell for almost unbeatable prices, largely because of far lower labor and general manufacturing costs. There’s nothing like the EPA in China, for example. In fact, every time I’ve visited that huge and fascinating land, the pride the people have in their new construction (factories, office towers, schools, etc.) has amazed me. Many of us, on the other hand, seem more interested in planting grass on the roof.

China has emerged as a mighty manufacturing country. We already are, but do we wish, as a people, to continue our leadership position? If the answer is yes, then we need to focus ourselves on that commitment. There is no better way to keep the American people focused on the central and supreme importance of manufacturing than to give the topic its due in the Cabinet and create a Secretary of Manufacturing.

I have suggested this before, but no takers. Today however, there is a move on in Washington led by a coalition of various manufacturing groups to support the idea at the undersecretary level in the Commerce Department. Senator Ernest Hollings, D., SC, has introduced a bill to establish an “Office on Manufacturing” in Commerce. Its job would be to gather all appropriate information that the Secretary of Commerce needs to preserve and enhance the nation’s industrial base. CITAC and other groups support this proposal.

I’d call this bill a great start. But, why just an “office?” Why not a top cabinet post? The job of America, besides continuing to be the envy of the world, may also now be to police the world. We will need to be our own best military supplier.

It is not the military alone, however, that must give us pause in our admiration of Chinese successes in manufacturing. They know, after watching the West, what needs to be done to create a modern nation with modern standards of living for its citizens. It’s called free enterprise and manufacturing. They have been focused on that goal for more than 25 years. During that same time frame, we as a people have lost that focus, that pride in industry that we once had.

Let me recall a few stats about all of this. Manufacturing is the highest payroll segment in 35 states and second in 5 more. Manufacturing productivity in the U.S. has grown at an average rate of 4.3% every year for most of the past 8 years — contrary to what many believe. We don’t just make popular movies, wars and hamburgers. This is still the leading industrial country in the world, and I believe most of us want to keep it that way.

Please don’t scream: “Protectionism! China bashing!” The point isn’t fear of China or any other country and their successes. Rather the issue is the widespread misunderstanding here at home of our own successes and how we came to be so envied and admired by China and the rest of the world.

Let it be said simply, clearly and loudly: America is a wealthy land of opportunity because it is the most PRODUCTIVE of countries. When we lose sight of that, we begin to decline as a competitor — in terms of Buicks, bullets and better days. A Secretary of Manufacturing could keep our focus on industry clear and steady. It’s just what we need, and I urge you to support such efforts. CITAC can be reached at www.CITAC-TRADE.org. George Weimer, contributing editor [email protected]