"Are we going to seize the opportunity or squander it away?" Craig Giffi asks.

The opportunity Giffi is talking about is to have policymakers take the steps needed to bolster U.S. manufacturing while foreign competitors are beseiged by economic problems. A vice chairman at Deloitte and leader of its U.S. Consumer and Industrial Products practice, Giffi has focused over the past few years particularly on the issue of manufacturing competitiveness.

Giffi says the window of opportunity is limited and has more to do with the "fortunes of our global trading partners" than any particular actions U.S. policymakers have taken. He cites the "extremely challenging situation" in Europe, cost escalation in China and Japan's currency struggles as a confluence of factors that are making this the right time for the United States to strengthen its manufacturing sector.

No one suggests that a manufacturing renaissance is without challenges. In a new Deloitte report, "Manufacturing Opportunity," the firm points to a "crisis in confidence" about manufacturing in the United States. At the same time Americans say the best way to create  1,000 jobs in a community is with a new factory, 18-to-24-year-olds "rank manufacturing dead last among industries" they would choose for a career. And while 79% of Americans say a strong manufacturing base should be a national priority, Deloitte notes, 55% believe U.S. manufacturing competitiveness is likely to weaken.

But Giffi says there is a path to manufacturing prosperity and it doesn't involve accomplishing "herculean things." Rather he says it requires making the right investments, training the right workforce and "making this an attractive place for manufacturers in particular to do business." He warns that inaction comes at great peril for the U.S. economy.

"The research is really clear that every country in the world is advancing its knowledge, its capability set, allowing it to make more advanced products," he tells IndustryWeek. "A pattern emerges that developing nations are using manufacturing to grow their economies and make them more robust. There is no race to the bottom. Everybody is advancing. It really is a race to the top."