Dow Chemical Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris wrote an editorial in USA Today calling for an "Advanced Manufacturing Plan" to rejuvenate the U.S. economy, re-grow jobs and allow U.S. manufacturers to compete successfully in the global market. Liveris offers a number of specific areas for policymakers to focus on, such as more support for R&D spending and investment in infrastructure, that many manufacturing leaders have previously highlighted.
Two points underlying Liveris' comments struck me as worth special mention. First, private-sector job growth has been weaker than hoped for. Consider that the U.S. lost an estimated 2.1 million manufacturing jobs during the recession. So far this year, the recovery has added 130,000 manufacturing jobs. If that pace were to keep up, it would take more than six years just to replace the jobs lost. Some economic observers such as Moody's Analytics say half of those manufacturing jobs are lost forever. If the United States wants to regain those jobs, the policies put in place will have to be innovative and even radical, or we will see the same continuing trend of job loss even as many of our global manufacturers enjoy greater financial success.
Second, Liveris' call for a plan recognizes that we have a patchwork of responses to the loss of manufacturing jobs and to the rebuilding of the overall economy. He calls for an "integrated and strategic approach that will incentivize manufacturers to create the jobs of the future." That can't mean taking actions that, for example, provide tax credits in one bill and tax increases in another. The federal government, by the way, is no different in this regard than many states where the hard work of economic development agencies can quickly be unraveled by tax agencies, creating a good cop-bad cop scenario that drives employers to friendlier - and more predictable - environs.
The Obama Administration deserves credit for digging us out of a terrible depression. But now, they need a greater sense of vision and fiscal responsibility if they are to earn a second term in office. They didn't create the current economic dilemma and they are unlikely to solve it completely, but the steps they take now must change the course of the country and put it on a more competitive and fiscally responsible path. In other words, Liveris is right - they need a plan and they need to make sure a vibrant manufacturing sector is part of it.