Survey says lack of leadership is thwarting manufacturing renaissance

November 5, 2012

The public feels that American leadership is off-course in improving manufacturing competitiveness and that the national economy is weak and fragile, according to a new survey from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute.

The survey found that Americans have a jaundiced view of the nation's overall economic health, with 59 percent indicating that the economy has "not improved or gotten better" in recent years. Specific to the manufacturing sector, only 16 percent of Americans feel it is likely to improve in the next 12 months. In contrast, 23 percent feel it will weaken.

"The perceived lack of competitiveness leadership across the board seems to be seeping beyond manufacturing, dragging down optimism about an economic turnaround," said Jennifer McNelly, president of The Manufacturing Institute.

The survey — the fourth annual "Public Viewpoint on Manufacturing" — sampled a nationally representative group of 1,000 Americans in September, finding that 84 percent "strongly agree" or "agree" that the U.S. needs a more strategic approach to developing its manufacturing base. A vast majority (82 percent) support further investment in America's manufacturing industry.

"Despite the public’s overwhelming desire for American policymakers and business leaders to double down on manufacturing, it is crystal clear that they believe we are not seeing enough action," said Craig Giffi, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP. Giffi pointed out that only about 35 percent of respondents believe that federal and state leadership is helping create a competitive advantage for the U.S. versus other countries.

Despite the public's gloomy mood, Giffi pointed out that Americans do have faith in the nation's technology expertise and resources to help bolster the manufacturing industry.

"For example, 78 percent of respondents cited America's technological prowess as one of the key contributors to the nation's competitive advantage," he said. "Further, 75 percent cited America's research and development capabilities as a key advantage."

Giffi also pointed out that a vast majority of survey respondents identified America's resources as key contributors to competitiveness, including natural resources (73 percent), energy availability (72 percent), and infrastructure (67 percent). Similarly, McNelly noted that they cited human resources as an advantage, specifically America's skilled workforce (72 percent), productivity (69 percent), and work ethic (61 percent).

What is more, when asked what type of facility they would establish if given an opportunity to create 1,000 new jobs in their community, Americans again placed manufacturing at the top of the list — ahead of all other industries including energy, technology, health care, and communications.

The survey was conducted online by an independent research company in September 2012. The survey polled a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Americans across 50 states and has a margin of error for the entire sample of ± 3 percentage points.

The Manufacturing Institute, an affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers, Washington, D.C., supports manufacturing excellence, innovation, and talent. Deloitte's Process & Industrial Products Sector serves more than 670 clients in the U.S.

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