Will the U.S. Finally Get a National Manufacturing Strategy?

Congress introduces two bills to push for a plan that leads to job growth.

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) announced on April 6 that they have each introduced bills to require the development of a national manufacturing strategy in order to boost traditional and high-tech manufacturing, spur American job growth and strengthen the middle class. America has lost 5.5 million manufacturing jobs, or one-third of the total, over the last decade.

Rep. Lipinski's bipartisan National Manufacturing Strategy Act passed the House last year 379-38. The current version, H.R. 1366, has 11 Democratic and 10 Republican cosponsors. To ensure widespread buy-in from both business and government, it requires the president to establish a Manufacturing Strategy Board of federal officials, two state governors from different parties, and private-sector manufacturing leaders. Every four years, the board will conduct a comprehensive analysis of the manufacturing sector covering matters ranging from financing to trade to the defense industrial base. Based on this analysis and ample public input, the board will develop a strategy that includes specific recommendations to the President, Congress, and industry for bolstering American manufacturing. To make sure we stay the course, the board will assess the implementation of its recommendations annually, and the GAO will conduct a separate review.

"The fact that U.S. manufacturers recently posted their first yearly jobs gain since 1997 demonstrates how much American manufacturing and those who rely on manufacturing for their livelihood have suffered over the past decade," Rep. Lipinski said. "Just last month came the news that China has seized the title of the worlds leading goods producer, ending America's 110-year reign. Yet no plan with broad support and real momentum currently exists for growing American manufacturing and reversing the offshoring that has been killing the middle class. That's why we need to develop a manufacturing strategy and follow through on its recommendations. Our bills may differ on the details, but Senator Brown and I share the same goals for manufacturing and job creation in the heartland and across America."

The America COMPETES Act, passed last December, includes a National Economic Competitiveness Strategy that echoes Rep. Lipinski's NMSA. It also includes his NSF reauthorization, which authorizes a high-tech manufacturing research program, and as called for by Lipinski requires better access to government supercomputers for manufacturers, and provides loan guarantees for manufacturers producing innovative technologies. In the 111th Congress, Rep. Lipinski introduced the Buy American Improvement Act with Sen. Russ Feingold to close loopholes in existing Buy American laws.

Sen. Brown's National Manufacturing Strategy Act of 2011 would require the Commerce Secretary to, within 180 days, conduct a comprehensive analysis of the nations manufacturing sector and submit to Congress a National Manufacturing Strategy. The report should include an assessment of U.S. manufacturing capacity, including what goods are produced, where they are produced, and in which sectors the U.S. is most competitive. The goals of the Strategy are to increase U.S. manufacturing jobs, identify emerging technologies to strengthen U.S. competitiveness, and strengthen the manufacturing sectors in which the U.S. is most competitive.

"The manufacturing industry helped build our middle class and must lead our nation's economic recovery," Sen. Brown said. "If we're going to out-compete and out-innovate other countries, it will require a national manufacturing strategy. The United States has been without one, and our economy has paid the price. We are seeing manufacturing help lead us out of the recession, but we need a sustained strategy to ensure long-term growth and job creation."

The Commerce Department will coordinate manufacturing assessment and recommendations with other federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Labor, Department of the Treasury, the Small Business Administration, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Science and Technology, and the Office of United States Trade Representative among others. In addition, the report must include at least two public listening sessions that include witnesses from manufacturing sectors, as well as a database of information derived from surveys of private manufacturers in order to understand how public policies can be tailored to promote manufacturing competitiveness.

"Other countries take a far more aggressive and coordinated approach to bolstering their manufacturing sectors, while America has allowed our manufacturing base to wither," Rep. Lipinski said. "We need to change that right now and adopt a strategy for revitalizing American manufacturing that creates jobs and helps make us the leading producer of high-value goods for decades to come. Leaving manufacturing to other countries and becoming an entirely service-based economy is clearly not the way to keep America strong. Losing manufacturing means losing your competitive edge, especially in high-tech industries where process innovation is key to product innovation. Ignorance of that fact and a blind trust in globalization helped bring us stagnating middle-class incomes and the rampant speculation by big banks that precipitated the 2008 financial crisis."

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