'Launching Point'

Execs want manufacturing report follow up.

Jerry J. Jasinowski, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), allows that not every recommendation that NAM wanted to see was included in "Manufacturing in America: A Comprehensive Strategy to Address the Challenges to U.S. Manufacturers," the U.S. Commerce Department's long-awaited document on U.S. manufacturing released Jan. 16. However, "this report is comprehensive and is a launching point for addressing the domestic and international challenges that have had such a negative impact on U.S. manufacturers and their workers," stresses Jasinowski. "What we need to do now is convert the report into real world action." In the course of 21 pages of recommendations, the report recommits the Bush administration to creating a new assistant secretary for manufacturing and services within the Commerce Department and, among other things, urges Congress to make permanent recent tax cuts, enact class-action lawsuit reform, approve asbestos liability reform, enact a comprehensive energy plan, change pension funding rules, strengthen the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, and establish a high school and technical education partnership. Reducing the tax burden of business is "absolutely critical," says Karen B. Wright, president and CEO of Ariel Corp., a maker of gas compressors in Mount Vernon, Ohio. "Make the dividend tax go away and stay away," she says. "Reduce the capital gains tax to an even lower level," she urges. "Just reform and simplify the tax code, add credit for capital improvements and job training programs and let the private sector do the rest." On another front, she says modernizing the U.S. legal system -- especially tort reform -- would be nice. It's "time to quit talking about it and do it." Not surprisingly, given her industry, she believes energy legislation, particularly dealing with natural gas and nuclear policy issues, is "critical." On education, Wright asks, "Since we already have a system of joint vocational schools throughout the country, why not revive that instead of adding to the mix?" In addition to its recommendations, the report highlights some of the concerns and suggestions expressed by manufacturing executives who attended 23 fact-finding roundtables that preceded the report's writing. "I think the United States is the only country in the G8 [a group of advanced industrialized countries plus Russia] which doesn't have a very high level department of manufacturing," Bob Brunner of Illinois Tool Works said at the Rockford, Ill., roundtable on May 12, 2003. "I think that [establishing such a department] would be a real positive development in terms of supporting us manufacturers." Among others quoted in the report are Mustafa Mohatarem of General Motors Corp., Curt Magleby of Ford Motor Co., John Vaught of Tri-Cast, Keith Guggenberger of Starkey Labs, Rick Kelly of Pellerin Milnor Corp., Gene Reinhardt of Dow Chemical Co. and Don Wainwright of Wainwright Industries.

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