Manufacturing could come roaring back, if

August 24, 2011

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The August issue of "Stamping News Brief" featured an article written by Michele Nash-Hoff, the author of the book Can American Manufacturing Be Saved? Why We Should and How We Can. In the article, which was published on huffingtonpost.com, Nash-Hoff noted that "after dominating the globe for over 60 years as the world's largest, most productive, and technologically advanced in the world, America's manufacturing sector is in a decline in nearly all industries. America's lead in a number of industries vanished years ago, and nearly all industries are facing potentially dangerous erosion." 

After presenting some of the article's content, including a rather grim look at the American machine tool industry, which fell from the world's third largest in 2000 to seventh in 2008, we asked SNB's readers if they think it is possible for policymakers to turn things around and what's the likelihood of their doing so in the next four to five years.

Among the responses was one from a reader who works for a company in the Northwest part of the country. Many in manufacturing can relate to his response:

"I have been in manufacturing for over 46 years.  I started as a janitor cleaning floors and progressed through apprentice, journeyman toolmaker, and tool engineer.  I have been involved with all types of stamping until 1996. 

"I started at the peak in 1965 and have watched it decline precipitously over the last 20 years. 

"I left metal stamping 15 years ago when our customers' purchasing managers started using our bids for justification to go the Far East for large quantity stamping orders. It was very hard to get senior management to invest into better technology and manufacturing processes. I felt that Americans could compete on the world stage, if we could get the best manufacturing tools and government policy positions that supported us. To my chagrin, there was very little support for either.

"I now work for a small company that is a world-class competitor in manufacturing. We use the best-in-class equipment and technologies to give our customers high-quality components with pricing that is very competitive with off-shore suppliers. It is very interesting to watch our customers' reaction when they realize the "total" cost of overseas manufacturing is often times a lot more than the local sources. This is especially true with the dollar's slide against other currencies.    

"It took us 15 years of very hard work and a vision for the future to make this happen. The owner has invested every bit of profit back into our company and fully intends to be a serious competitor against the overseas suppliers. And, yes, we are profitable; and, yes, we plow every bit of this profit back into the company. No money is spent on personal wants. [The owner] drives a 12-year-old pickup and works in the shop, just like the rest of us.

"We have the manufacturing side moving in the right direction, but are very disheartened by the governmental policies we see coming out of Washington and our state's capital. At a time when American manufacturing desperately needs policy that supports us, we are inundated with rules and bureaucracy that is strangling our business. The government officials are promoting "JOBS" for public consumption, but promoting policies that are destroying these very same jobs in America. These people are either very stupid or malevolent. I don’t know which it is. I just see the end result of their foolishness, and it is destroying the very backbone of the nation's wealth-creation engine, which is manufacturing. 

"An illustration of this is we're trying to build a new building to handle our growth.  We are in the second of a four-phase building project. The amount of time and money spent dealing with the local officials on code requirements equals roughly 40 percent of the total cost. It takes an average of two years to get through the permitting process just to start the construction phase, which takes about five months. A great amount of this time and money is spent on meeting requirements that have nothing to do with the actual building process. Furthermore, we have to meet stringent requirements on property maintenance and appearance. And woe to us if we violate any obscure or arcane rule that we didn't know about. 

"All of this cost has to be paid from our bottom line. It keeps us from being an even stronger competitor in the marketplace. It certainly reduces the amount of money that is available to pay our people better or hire additional personnel. Add the burden of future mandated cost (Obamacare for example) and we have a situation that could drive even the healthiest companies broke.

"My thinking is that we could come roaring back and become the premier manufacturing power in the world within 5 to 10 years if government became our partner and abandoned the adversarial role. Unfortunately, I do not think this will happen.  Politicians tend to listen to people with grand visions and money to support their campaigns. The truly productive people do not have a voice in our government today. The big players buy lobbyists and pay money to get rules that favor their activities, often at the expense of their domestic competitors. The little manufacturer has to compete with this on his back while trying to win business against the overseas supplier.

"It’s not looking really hopeful here. I plan to stay in this business long past retirement age.  I am a fierce competitor, and I love winning in the manufacturing world. I just hope that I have a company and job to go to in the future."

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Vicki Bell

Web Content Manager
FMA Communications Inc.
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