Getting To Know You

Oct. 7, 2005
At the close of Al Frink's first full year, he counts CAFTA, energy and tort reform as wins but says currency policy is not his job.

Albert A. Frink, Jr., the U.S.' first assistant secretary of commerce for manufacturing and services, closed his first full year last month with a sense of accomplishment but with a substantial list of work yet to be done. Tort reform, CAFTA and the energy bill top the list of legislation he says his office helped to pass. In addition it has completed 32 recommendations outlined in the report, Manufacturing in America, which Frink says "represented my marching orders." The report, detailing a "comprehensive strategy to address challenges to U.S. manufacturers," was published by the Department of Commerce (DOC) in January 2004. Before yearend, Frink expects to implement three more recommendations:

  • Establishing an intergovernmental coordinating committee that will enable him to work with state and community governments.
  • Benchmarking progress toward achieving the goals set out in the DOC report.
  • Implementing the recommendations of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to strengthen technology transfer of federally funded R&D.

Still, Frink characterizes his first-year efforts primarily as a year spent "in a listening-learning tour," as well as reorganizing DOC and establishing working groups that will help coordinate and amplify manufacturing's voice. Frink says he's spent seven months on the road meeting with 71 manufacturers, addressing 43 association groups and visiting five community colleges. He's twice given congressional testimony.

One key to the reorganization efforts has been to get his department "to not just focus on [international] trade but to look at domestic issues and how they affect trade," Frink says. "That was a transition in itself -- to get our own group to understand that a healthy domestic market drives a good international market." Prior to the reorganization, he says, the department had been more focused on the international, rather than domestic, competitiveness agenda. To change the focus, Frink put members of the department through "a very intense course on the regulatory process" to teach them to be more cognizant of how new and existing regulations affect manufacturers.

See Also...

"Manufacturing in America" report

Albert Frink's Congressional Testimony

When asked about some manufacturers' complaints about trade policy, he replied: "I think I tend to agree with what [former] Governor Engler said, in that it was probably one of the best campaigns of misinformation." On currency policy, he said he'd work through the newly formed interagency working group, in which the Department of Treasury is one of 17 governmental agencies. "The currency issue is something that is dealt with out of Treasury. . . I know there would be an expectation that we would get into that area, but I strongly believe we [the U.S. government] have to speak with one voice, a unified voice."

Looking forward, three issues stand out as priorities: education, innovation and the environment, while the top legislative priority is getting legislation passed that would allow associations to offer health-care insurance.

Education concerns among manufacturers have grown in importance in the past year, he says, noting that every manufacturer he visited with complained of having difficulty finding qualified people. As for innovation, he says: "Innovation is what's going to define our ability to compete in the world. The future of American manufacturing is going to be built on added value and building great brands."

About the Author

Patricia Panchak | Patricia Panchak, Former Editor-in-Chief

Focus: Competitiveness & Public Policy

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In her commentary and reporting for IndustryWeek, Editor-in-Chief Patricia Panchak covers world-class manufacturing industry strategies, best practices and public policy issues that affect manufacturers’ competitiveness. She delivers news and analysis—and reports the trends--in tax, trade and labor policy; federal, state and local government agencies and programs; and judicial, executive and legislative actions. As well, she shares case studies about how manufacturing executives can capitalize on the latest best practices to cut costs, boost productivity and increase profits.

As editor, she directs the strategic development of all IW editorial products, including the magazine,, research and information products, and executive conferences.

An award-winning editor, Panchak received the 2004 Jesse H. Neal Business Journalism Award for Signed Commentary and helped her staff earn the 2004 Neal Award for Subject-Related Series. She also has earned the American Business Media’s Midwest Award for Editorial Courage and Integrity.

Patricia holds bachelor’s degrees in Journalism and English from Bowling Green State University and a master’s degree in Journalism from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. She lives in Cleveland Hts., Ohio, with her family.  

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