Report Foments Bush Manufacturing Plan

By Tonya Vinas A heady mixture of economic optimism and election-year campaigning swept through the plant floor of a Cleveland electrical equipment manufacturer Jan. 16, as U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans unveiled the Bush administration's plan for aiding the country's manufacturers. Evans, a former engineer, led less of a formal presentation than a pep rally for the employees of Lincoln Electric Co., a century-old maker of arc-welding machines. His appearance was the roll out of "Manufacturing In America: A Comprehensive Strategy to Address the Challenges to U.S. Manufacturers," a report based on a round of meetings the Commerce Department held this past summer with manufacturing leaders across the country. Its release comes at a time of unprecedented tumult in manufacturing, fueled by the rapid emergence of China and India as ultra-low-cost competitors to the United States, a slow-to-recover U.S. economy and a labor force transitioning to highly productive, lean production techniques. Many of the initiatives in the report have already been broached and will ultimately require Congressional approval. Most significant, said Evans, is the appointment of a manufacturing assistant secretary at Commerce who will be responsible for administering the plan and leading pro-manufacturing efforts. "I want someone in the department every day who is focused on the concerns and needs of manufacturing," Evans said. This appointment will come pending Congressional approval of a spending bill left over from 2003. Meanwhile, Grant Aldonas, under secretary for the International Trade Administration, will serve as the manufacturing point man. The plan also calls for:

  • Creating a President's Manufacturing Council, chaired by Evans, charged with implementing the recommendations of the reports.
  • Creating an Office of Industry Analysis, which will review the impact of government regulations on manufacturing.
  • Require the Treasury Department to undertake a tax simplification study, with a goal of making permanent tax breaks regarding asset depreciation and the corporate alternative minimum tax.
Some of the other areas of focus include reducing litigation, increasing and monitoring trade, establishing an energy policy, and reviewing ways to reduce health-care costs and increase training, although it was unclear what the most immediate impact of the report would be. Evans said much of the proposed activity is already under way. Indeed, manufacturing indices from major trade groups have recorded a resurgence in manufacturing, but this nascent recuperation has yet to bring many manufacturers anywhere near pre-recession production levels.
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