Ron Bloom has a single job really, so he says. The senior counselor for manufacturing policy recently told a group of manufacturers, policy makers and other thought leaders that his only role in the Obama administration is to ask the question, or force the question: Is this good for manufacturing?
Bloom made the statement in August at the Ohio Manufacturing Roundtable, an event developed to promote discussion and action around strengthening manufacturing in the state. He spoke some and listened at length during the half-day event, and his comments included:
- Manufacturing must play a key role in sustainable prosperity, and the administration is "under no illusions" but that there is a long way to go to make that happen. Bloom noted that last December the administration released "Revitalizing American Manufacturing," its suggested framework for government's role in a manufacturing renewal. Bloom emphasized the federal government's role is as a partner, not as an entity with all the answers.
With regard to the federal bailout of Chrysler and General Motors, Bloom said there was a "reasonable chance" that 1 million more people would have lost jobs without the federal assistance, with suppliers and dealers at risk as well. To not act would have had huge ramifications for the entire manufacturing economy and beyond, even though "we are still in a very tough economy."
- Not to dismiss China, Germany or other global competition, Bloom said, but the U.S. manufacturing strategy has to take advantage of "what we do uniquely in America" with its diverse, entrepreneurial population. This comment by Bloom drew criticism from at least one audience member, who argued that new models of innovation are emerging in other countries that deserve attention. Bloom agreed the United States could learn from innovation models emerging elsewhere but emphasized they would need to be adapted to American culture.
Also from the audience Bloom heard calls for making permanent the R&D tax credit and addressing China's currency valuation, as well as plenty of additional suggestions for improving the White House's manufacturing framework. The lack of access to capital, in particular, raised numerous voices. One manufacturer pointed out that he needs working capital to fill raw material requirements for improving business. Yet obtaining that capital is difficult. "There's a tremendous sense of urgency," he said. Another manufacturing executive said additional options other than commercial banks are needed to address capital access. Banks are risk averse, and "factoring is too expensive," he said.