More about the future of U.S. manufacturing

August 31, 2011

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I devoted last week's blog post to one "Stamping News Brief" reader's comments regarding the current state and future of manufacturing in the U.S.  He expressed his concerns about governmental rules and regulations that are "strangling" his business and said things could turn around if the government became manufacturing's partner and abandoned the adversarial role. Labeling himself a "fierce competitor" who loves "winning in the manufacturing world," at this point, he just hopes he has a company and a job to go to in the future.

Fierce Competitor wasn't the only SNB reader who weighed in on this topic. Here are comments from others:

An applications engineer from Illinois said, "Things can turn around, and in order for this to happen, the American public needs to put our products first over the imports from other countries—everything from autos, appliances, and everyday items. How do you get the people of this country to start thinking this way? Too many people do the complaining and then get into their Nissan, Toyota, Kia, etc., to drive home. The American public needs to wake up and be aware of this. How many GM or Ford vehicles do you see in China and Japan? 

(For the record, GM reportedly sold more cars and trucks in China last year than in the U.S. for the first time in the company's 102-year history. The most recent numbers I could find for sales in Japan aren't that recent. It appears that the volume had dropped to 2,000 vehicles a year by 2009 from a high of 50,000 in 1996.

Earlier this year, Ford signed an agreement to explore the possibility of exporting U.S.-made vehicles to China. The company sold 3,000 cars in Japan in 2010; 20 years ago, it sold 80,000 a year. However, it supposedly has a future product cycle plan designed to spur growth.) 

"The people that are still in the manufacturing industry in the U.S. are very talented and knowledgeable, but if no one is buying the products that they produce, soon their jobs will be gone also. 

"Washington needs to do something to balance the trade agreements. With the people that are in office now, I don't think this will ever happen, so when we get the chance, we all need to vote and make some changes." 

(Seventy-nine percent of those responding to a survey on thefabricator.com believe that trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama would cause more U.S. jobs to disappear.)

One reader believes manufacturers are at least partly responsible for the situation. He said, "Letting the foreign companies get a foothold in manufacturing 10 to 15 years ago, plus low labor rates, means it's pretty much over for the U.S. The U.S. worker will have to accept fewer dollars to allow U.S. manufacturers to compete.

"Many of the U.S. manufacturers themselves are to blame for buying the foreign machines that gave them the foothold in the first place." 

The response from a reader who works for a Tennessee-based company evoked the old adage, "be careful what you wish for …" He said, "The big question is who will be trained to do this work, if it is turned around back to the U.S.?  It is going to be the older, almost-retired machinists; there is no youth working up in the ranks to take over producing/fabricating parts.  So, if we bring the work back to the U.S., will we have workers to fill those new jobs?" 

So much to think about and relatively little time to right the ship.

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Vicki Bell

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