Letters to the Editor for February 2009

Advice on sorting out U.S. manufacturing issues

Strong Medicine

Although I agree with a lot of your sentiment in your commentary ("Just In Time -- The Big None," Jan. 2009), it is interesting that the Big Three U.S. automakers are facing such difficulty when the world market is seeing record auto sales. Further, many of the Big Three have formidable operations and market share in the BRIC countries that are driving today's and tomorrow's demand.

Instead of Congress itching to waste taxpayer money and allowing these companies to bypass the normal Chapter 11 proceedings that are there to protect businesses that need temporary protection, let's write our congressmen (who have earned their single-digit approval ratings) and confirm to them that a bailout at our expense may be politically expedient but has zero chance of fixing American industry woes. Yes, it will be painful for all of us, union workers as well as professionals, but strong medicine is what is needed to address the mistakes made -- many of them, as you state, by Congress in the first place.

Tim Mullen
corporate sourcing manager
Dresser Inc.
Waukesha, Wis.

Quality Needs to be in the Product, not on Paper

I believe you omitted one important thing in your commentary: the auto workers are being paid (with benefits) a gross amount that hinders the Big Three from being competitive in general. Making $55 (or more) an hour is completely absurd, and there is simply no other way to put it. Once again, common sense has left the building. The Big Three have let this issue run amok and until it is put back in its proper place, the negative cash flow they are experiencing will go on forever. The fact that you have to sell zillions to break even should apply only to machinery or other fixed costs, but not to labor. (It sounds as if they have hired Bud Selig as a consultant.) I would be a Scrooge too if the needy people had their hands out, but hadn't had to work for two years due to their nice contract.

The other point I would like to make is about how the government has run the auto industry into the ground with regulatory constraints that foreign companies do not have. I do not argue that, but I will go one better -- what about the constraints that the industry has put upon themselves with quality assurance programs that make no sense and oftentimes do not work, but all of the time are inefficient? I remember when the first ISO 9000 stuff came out that the auto industry would change the face of quality forever and that rejects would become a thing of the past. How did I know for sure? The official document they had said exactly that. Rejects continued and I noticed less of a concern with companies that had that official document. "We will look into that later," one of them said. "Right now the quality control folks are busting their buns to get certified."

Quality is in the end product that is gained through quality control of the materials and processes instituted to get there. Pieces of paper are fine, but there has to be a real commitment in the office and on the factory floor, too.

Jerry Carlew Jr.
purchasing manager
Mayo Manufacturing Corp.
Texarkana, Tex.

Re-establishing American Industrial Superiority

Re: "The Competitive Edge -- Bridging the Divide Between Wall Street and Main Street," Jan. 2009

The absolute fastest way to re-establish our American industrial superiority is to manufacture in the United States. How simple. Why hasn't anyone else thought of this? It's not complicated.

  1. Buy a building.
  2. Put in machines, hire people and purchase raw materials. Then ship products to waiting customers, which the companies must already have from their foreign operations.
  3. Convince Uncle Sam to purchase its military needs from U.S. manufacturers first.
  4. Convince Wall Street to look long term, not just 13 weeks (next-quarter results) in advance.
  5. Look back 10 years and think of the drubbing the auto industry would have taken from Wall Street for switching to smaller, fuel-efficient cars.
  6. Now look forward 10 years and imagine that U.S. manufacturing again reigns supreme and our economy is again a three-legged stool, i.e., government-retail-manufacturing.

Wow. A stable, fully employed workforce, producing goods that benefit the U.S. economy and stabilize our balance of trade, reduce our national debt and provide promise for our young people.

John Conlon, president
Farmington Manufacturing Co.
Farmington, Conn.

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