It's been a while since we've heard from Michael Porter, the Harvard professor who back in the mid-1980s wrote Competitive Advantage, which not only got people in the United States thinking seriously about competitiveness, but in fact laid the groundwork for much of the current thinking on supply chain management. As it turns out, Porter has been working with the Council on Competitiveness, a public policy action group whose motivating goal is to drive U.S. competitiveness and economic leadership. (The current chairman of the council is none other than Charles O. Holliday, Jr., chairman and CEO of DuPont and IndustryWeek's 2006 Technology Leader of the Year.)
Porter and the council have just issued the Competitiveness Index: Where America Stands, which has generated virtually no interest from the popular press, perhaps because its message can't be reduced to an easily digestible sound bite. The basic message of this report is that the globalization of manufacturing isn't necessarily a doom-and-gloom scenario for U.S. companies. Quite the contrary: Porter believes the U.S. "is better positioned than perhaps any other country to benefit from the forces that are reshaping the global economy."
There's a big "if" lurking over America's shoulder, however, as the report warns that continued prosperity will depend on improved education. In addition, while the level of unemployment in the U.S. remains low, job creation has lagged previous economic recoveries. And perhaps the biggest "if" of them all is the willingness to accept that outsourcing low-value, commodity-based manufacturing jobs to other countries is itself evidence of competitive advantage, not a fundamental weakness of the U.S. economy.
See Chain Reactions: David Blanchard's blog about supply chain management.
Consider, too, that the U.S. is still the world's No. 1 producer of manufactured goods. Indeed, as the report points out, "U.S. manufacturing output in 2005 was 50% larger than China's." Furthermore, U.S. workers are more productive than their global peers, thanks largely to the adoption and use of technology, and they enjoy the highest standard of living in the world.
IW Editor-in-Chief David Blanchard Speaks About "The Perfect Order"
In other words, sometimes the fault lies not in China but in ourselves. I'm a big believer in the idea of best practices, and as I state in my new book, Supply Chain Management Best Practices, (just published by John Wiley & Sons), the ultimate best practice for any manufacturer is to have top-performing employees at every level and in every department. That's the kind of competitive advantage nobody can take away from us, and it's in everybody's best interest that U.S. manufacturers insist on nothing but the best from themselves.
David Blanchard is IW's editor-in-chief. He is based in Cleveland. Also see Chain Reactions: David Blanchard's new blog about supply chain management.