Manufacturing gets far less coverage than the really pressing issues of our day, like what the Kardashians are wearing or whose attack ads in Iowa drew the most blood.
Still, for those of us in the heartland who are concerned about the state of the U.S. economy, unemployment and the role of manufacturing, note that a U.S. politician - albeit a fairly newly minted one - addressed manufacturing in a significant way recently.
Commerce Secretary John Bryson, the former CEO of Edison International, addressed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week and voiced this "imperative" for a strong U.S. economy: "We need to help American businesses build it here and sell it everywhere."
Bryson said Commerce would focus on three areas to help manufacturers do that:
1. Support advanced manufacturing
2. Increase U.S. exports
3. Attract more investment to America from all over the world
Manufacturing matters, Bryson said, because "without a strong manufacturing base, we can't create enough good jobs to sustain a strong middle class." And, he added, "Without a strong middle class, we cannot be a strong country."
Bryson noted the need for innovation to fuel advanced manufacturing and pointed out the critical connection between innovation and manufacturing: "f American businesses stop building things here, it won't be long before the actual innovating happens elsewhere."
What happens to the things we build here? Bryson pointed out that 95% of the world's consumers live outside the United States. Yet, only 1% of our businesses export and of that tiny group, 58% export to only one market, usually Canada or Mexico.
Bryson outlined a variety of steps the federal government will be taking to help businesses, particularly small businesses, export their products. They include having Federal Express work with the U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service to match their foreign customers with suppliers in the U.S.
The U.S. remains the number one destination for foreign direct investment, Bryson pointed out, but he acknowledged that the U.S. is losing ground to foreign competitors. In particular, he noted, the U.S. is the "only major economy without a robust national investment program."
Bryson said Commerce has launched a new program called SelectUSA to "aggressively pursue and win new business investment" in the U.S. Bryson said now was the time to push for more investment in this country, citing the fact that as costs have risen in emerging countries such as China, "we've recently seen U.S.-based firms such as NCR, Ford and Coleman bring back facilities and jobs into the United States."
Bryson made an appeal to the Chamber audience to "invest here now" and "put people back to work." He said even the most profitable companies can't succeed long-term with so many Americans out of work. He also said U.S. companies need to invest because that is what our foreign competitors are doing.
"In places like China, Brazil and India, businesses are investing in new industries and new growth opportunities and looking to grab market share wherever they can. They're part of the same, troubled global economy we are. But they're not backing down," Bryson said.