Steel Exec: 'We're Asking for a Level Playing Field, Nothing More'

Steel Exec: 'We're Asking for a Level Playing Field, Nothing More'

Trade balance, energy independence are among the keys to rebuilding U.S. industry, Nucor's Ferriola tells manufacturers.

"Our country's unemployment numbers will continue to rise if we do not restore strength to our manufacturing sector here in America," Nucor's John Ferriola told several hundred manufacturers this morning at IndustryWeek's 2010 Best Plants Conference in Cleveland.

Ferriola, chief operating officer of steelmaking operations for Charlotte, N.C.-based Nucor Corp., painted a grim picture of the U.S. economy, citing statistics indicating that the number of U.S. manufacturing jobs has reached a nearly 70-year low. Those jobs are crucial to the overall economic recovery, as every manufacturing job supports an additional 5.2 jobs through the wages, infrastructure investments and taxes generated by those positions, Ferriola noted.

John Ferriola, COO of Nucor, addresses the attendees at the IW Best Plants Conference

Ferriola urged policymakers at all levels of government to make job creation their No. 1 priority.

"Last year's stimulus package was projected to create or save 3.5 million jobs by the end of next year. This is woefully short of what we and our country need," Ferriola asserted.

Ferriola, the keynote speaker for the opening session of Best Plants, said there are three keys to creating jobs in the United States: achieving energy independence, balancing the trade deficit and rebuilding the nation's infrastructure.

He called for a "realistic plan" to achieve energy independence, consisting of a mix of traditional energy sources and renewable sources such as wind and solar power.



(The above is an excerpt from the presentation. The entire video can be viewed here.)

"Renewable energy sources will be an important part of the energy mix going forward, but renewable energy is only part of the solution," Ferriola said. "The reality is that right now and for decades to come, only nuclear power, natural gas and coal can provide energy on the scale required for our economy and our energy-intensive industries."

Ferriola was most outspoken about trade, and the "need to provide a stable and level playing field for manufacturing in global markets." He said the massive trade deficits with China and other nations are "destroying American manufacturing" and "crippling the American economy."

"Globalization is a good thing. It expands our markets, creates new trade relationships and allows goods and raw materials to flow around the planet," Ferriola said. "But when governments ignore or deliberately break the rules by which we agree to trade -- by engaging in currency manipulation, employing illegal export subsidies or intervening in commodity negotiations -- then our businesses, your businesses, are forced to compete with entire nations."

Asked about how the U.S. government can hold China accountable for its alleged currency manipulation practices, Ferriola said that even if China agreed to allow its currency to float by 3% to 5% every year, U.S. manufacturers still would be at a disadvantage.

"[China] blatantly break[s] the rules that they agreed to that allowed them to become a trading partner of the world, and that's not right," Ferriola said. "And it's not right to say, 'Well, we'll negotiate, we'll give them a little bit this time, and sooner or later we'll have a level playing field but at the rate of 5% every couple years.' When you start off with 40%, that's a long time. It's enough time for them to put the American manufacturing sector out of business, and it's our job to ensure that we don't let that happen."

Ferriola added that U.S. manufacturers are "asking for a level playing field -- nothing more." He also urged Best Plants attendees to focus on continuous improvement, no matter how strong their companies are.

"Everyday when you wake up, you need to ask yourself and your team, 'What can we do just a little bit better today compared to what we did yesterday?'"

The entire keynote can be viewed here.

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