When politicians have discussed ways to fix the economy, most of the dialogue has been directed at financial institutions, health care and energy. With the exception of the auto industry, manufacturing has largely been ignored by policymakers.
Manufacturing representatives say they hope the Obama administration's newly created senior counselor for manufacturing will put a renewed focus in Washington on manufacturing as a whole.
Last week Obama appointed Ron Bloom to the "manufacturing czar" position. Bloom will "provide leadership on policy development and strategic planning for the president's agenda to revitalize the manufacturing sector," the White House said in a statement.
Bloom has been serving as a senior advisor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Obama's automotive industry task force and previously worked as a United Steelworkers union executive. Bloom's union ties have raised some concerns that he's a little too cozy with organized labor, but initial response from the manufacturing community has been positive regarding the position's role.
"The most important part of this process is some recognition that manufacturing is important," says Mark Tomlinson, executive director and general manager of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. "I would hope that he would start to have dialogue with factions of manufacturing outside just the traditional automotive sector."
Tomlinson would like to see more emphasis on other industries, including aerospace, medical device and energy-related manufacturing, and increased support for small and midsize manufacturers, he says. Tomlinson says he also hopes Bloom will help manufacturers gain more financial support for capital equipment expenditures and workforce training.
As for the selection of Bloom, Tomlinson says he doesn't have an opinion one way or the other.
"The Society [of Manufacturing Engineers] is more focused on what he needs to do rather than the individual himself," Tomlinson says. "If he has the president's ear, I wish him well. As long as he listens to what the needs are it will be a positive step for manufacturing."
The National Association of Manufacturers would not comment on Bloom either, but spokeswoman Laura Narvaiz said NAM is pleased with the Obama administration's decision to create a manufacturing adviser position. Key issues NAM is hoping to have addressed include taxes, energy supplies, skilled workforce and R&D tax credits, Narvaiz says.
The American Iron and Steel Institute has called on Bloom to push a pro-manufacturing agenda that includes the establishment and enforcement of trade policies that "will level the international playing field for all manufacturers," said AISI CEO Thomas Gibson in a prepared statement.
"Since 2000, over 4 million U.S. manufacturing jobs have migrated overseas because of the lack of aggressive policies to keep these valuable, high-paying jobs here in America," Gibson said. "With his background as a former adviser to the United Steelworkers union, Ron [Bloom] has firsthand knowledge about the value that cornerstone industries, such as steel, and its top notch workforce, bring to the American economy."
The United Steelworkers also offered praise for the Bloom, saying he understands capital, labor, production and the need to develop green jobs.
"Ron is very passionate in his belief that manufacturing is essential to a healthy economy," said Leo Gerard, international president of the USW, in a Sept. 7 statement. "He is able to restructure industries by respecting the role and obligations of all stakeholders."
Gerard noted that Bloom, a former investment banker, worked with him to restructure 50 companies
"He's been a loyal friend for more than 20 years," Gerard said.
Bloom will continue his role in the auto industry task force that has overseen federal aid to the sector.