The hard work of communicating to our nation's leaders about steps they must take to ensure a vital U.S. manufacturing sector is beginning to pay dividends but must forcefully continue. We've moved manufacturing closer to the top of the national agenda. More importantly, we have convinced many in government of the vital role manufacturing plays in a vibrant economy and of the need for public policy changes to ensure its survival and spur its growth. But there's much more work to be done. Manufacturing executives whose enthusiasm for the battle may be waning should take heart in the successes so far and redouble their dedication to the cause. First the good news: The several positive achievements for U.S. manufacturing in the past few months include:
Tax changes and other legislation: Manufacturers managed to convince Congress to increase last year's 30% expensing allowance to 50% through 2004, as well as to increase the small business expensing allowance to $100,000 as part of President Bush's jobs and growth tax package. One of the manufacturing lobby's top priorities, the expensing option, it's hoped, will help jumpstart business investment, the lack of which has been a drag on the economy. Measures introduced to promote manufacturing include one that would create a new under secretary of manufacturing in the Department of Commerce and another that would expand the use of Industrial Development Bonds to include factories.
Forums: Nearly every group in the federal government with some interest in or dependence on manufacturing (and there are a lot of them) has mobilized to study the challenges of and explore ways to strengthen U.S. manufacturing. Among them: The House Science Committee's subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards, the Congressional U.S.-China Economic Security Review Commission, the Pentagon's Advisory Group on Electron Devices, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, the Judiciary and Related Agencies, the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration and the National Academy of Sciences.
Advocacy groups: Significantly, a few long-dormant manufacturing-friendly groups have been revived. They include the Congressional Coalition on Manufacturing, the Coalition for Defense Manufacturing Technology and the Senate Manufacturing Task Force. In the face of these wins, however, it troubles me to read the testimony of a recent hearing on "How Trade with China Affects American Manufacturing" before the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, the Judiciary and Related Agencies. In testimony the manufacturing executives blasted the Bush Administration for taking a perplexingly soft approach to enforcing international trade rules and U.S. trade laws designed to protect U.S. manufacturers from unfair trade. Amidst statements reasserting their dedication to taking responsibility for stepping up to the increasingly intense competition, executives showed signs of frustration -- very nearly resignation -- at getting support from our government. While I realize these comments were most likely used as rhetorical devices (and it says something when we have to go to such lengths to make our argument), manufacturers cannot allow themselves to give up. We've made too much progress. We should celebrate our victories, and get back to work. Patricia Panchak is IW's editor-in-chief. She is based in Cleveland.