Several years ago the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation decided to bring together key stakeholders in Washington who might support a national manufacturing strategy.
In our view it was clear that U.S. manufacturing had suffered significantly in the 2000s, losing one-third of its jobs and over 10% of its output, and that we desperately needed a national manufacturing strategy to reverse these fortunes.
Do we put together a group of stakeholders from a wide range of organizations and political orientations from the AFL-CIO Manufacturing Council to the National Association of Manufacturers.
The very first lunch meeting had an inauspicious beginning: a representative from one organization pressed to have “card check” legislation included in our joint recommendation (a measure to make it easier for unions to organize). Another pressed to have Congress pass national “right to work” legislation.
Needless to say there was no way to reach a compromise on such polarized positions. But once we made it clear that we were interested in areas where we could reach consensus and that contentious, divisive issues like this were off the table, we made relatively good progress.
For example, the “left of center” organizations were able to sign on to support expanded trade measures and significant tax cuts on manufacturers, particularly for investing in new machinery and R&D.
The “right of center” groups were able to support limitations on trade, such as limiting government procurement to goods from nations that had signed the WTO Government Procurement Act. And everyone supported measures like better support for manufacturing technician training.
The result was a joint Charter for the Revitalization of American Manufacturing. It is by no means a perfect document, but it is progress and represents what can happen when people of good will get together to put the U.S. national interest first.
I say this because in my experience this process was the exception, not the rule. I recently had the honor of being asked to make a presentation on manufacturing policy to a national manufacturing association’s annual conference. When we got to the Q&A period I happened to mention that Democrats had proposed a good idea to help manufacturing. You would have thought I was saying that earth was square. My simple assertion met with not just incredulity but scorn and ridicule. Have we really gotten to the point where most people think only one political party has the ideas we need to move the nation forward? I am afraid we have.