Albert A. Frink, Jr., the U.S.' first assistant secretary of commerce for manufacturing and services, closed his first full year last month with a sense of accomplishment but with a substantial list of work yet to be done. Tort reform, CAFTA and the energy bill top the list of legislation he says his office helped to pass. In addition it has completed 32 recommendations outlined in the report, Manufacturing in America, which Frink says "represented my marching orders." The report, detailing a "comprehensive strategy to address challenges to U.S. manufacturers," was published by the Department of Commerce (DOC) in January 2004. Before yearend, Frink expects to implement three more recommendations:
- Establishing an intergovernmental coordinating committee that will enable him to work with state and community governments.
- Benchmarking progress toward achieving the goals set out in the DOC report.
- Implementing the recommendations of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to strengthen technology transfer of federally funded R&D.
Still, Frink characterizes his first-year efforts primarily as a year spent "in a listening-learning tour," as well as reorganizing DOC and establishing working groups that will help coordinate and amplify manufacturing's voice. Frink says he's spent seven months on the road meeting with 71 manufacturers, addressing 43 association groups and visiting five community colleges. He's twice given congressional testimony.
One key to the reorganization efforts has been to get his department "to not just focus on [international] trade but to look at domestic issues and how they affect trade," Frink says. "That was a transition in itself -- to get our own group to understand that a healthy domestic market drives a good international market." Prior to the reorganization, he says, the department had been more focused on the international, rather than domestic, competitiveness agenda. To change the focus, Frink put members of the department through "a very intense course on the regulatory process" to teach them to be more cognizant of how new and existing regulations affect manufacturers.
"Manufacturing in America" report
Albert Frink's Congressional Testimony
Looking forward, three issues stand out as priorities: education, innovation and the environment, while the top legislative priority is getting legislation passed that would allow associations to offer health-care insurance.
Education concerns among manufacturers have grown in importance in the past year, he says, noting that every manufacturer he visited with complained of having difficulty finding qualified people. As for innovation, he says: "Innovation is what's going to define our ability to compete in the world. The future of American manufacturing is going to be built on added value and building great brands."