By John Teresko Yesterday, in the small Northeastern Ohio town of Middlefield, secretary of commerce Donald L. Evans announced President Bush's appointment of Al Frink to the newly created position of assistant secretary for manufacturing. Intended to show the administration's concern for giving manufacturing a proper voice in Washington, the new Department of Commerce position might have been better named assistant secretary of lean manufacturing, observed one attendee. Why? Consider the venue -- KraftMaid Cabinetry Inc., a division of consumer products maker Masco Corp. The company, led by Tom Chieffe, president and CEO, uses lean manufacturing to build a powerful competitive position. Chieffe, who previously held a position with an auto supplier, was able to lead KraftMaid to abandon huge inventories for just-in-time production. He says it makes possible rapid response to changing customer preferences. Floor space that was once allocated to inventory is now being converted to satisfy his expanding need for more production capacity. His latest indication of success: the addition of 150,000 square feet of manufacturing floor space plus job openings for 900 new hires. Frink's new assistant secretary position fulfills one of the recommendations of Manufacturing In America, a Department of Commerce study released in January.