Just In Time -- An American Daydream

Sept. 12, 2008
Since neither presidential candidate has much interest in the manufacturing industry, we'll have to resort to a bit of wishful thinking instead.

So it has come to this. On Nov. 4, we will elect a man to be chief executive of the United States who has never run a business, nor for that matter, even worked on staff for a business during their adult lives. Apparently, then, to judge by the acclamation both major party candidates have received from their supporters, the lack of hands-on business experience is by no means a serious impediment to becoming president of the United States. Then again, running a business isn't necessarily the best indication of one's presidential qualifications, given that George W. Bush created and ran a number of oil exploration companies earlier in his career.

At this point in the campaign, I'm afraid I've relapsed into wishful thinking, hoping against hope that one of these two senators will actually offer some insight into how exactly the manufacturing industry will be affected should he be elected. Here's what I wish one of the candidates would say between now and Election Day:

"My fellow Americans, I'd like to beg your indulgence for a moment as I address those of you who are employed in the manufacturing industry, all 14 million of you. You know, the U.S. manufacturing industry contributes $1.5 trillion to our gross domestic product, or roughly 10% of the total GDP. That's pretty impressive, and in fact, I've heard it said that if American manufacturing was a country, it would be the eighth largest economy in the world. I mention this to dispel any notion that my administration will take manufacturers for granted.

"Manufacturing has been used as a political football for far too long now. Yes, the number of people employed in traditional production jobs has dropped significantly over the years, and that's regrettable. However, manufacturers throughout the United States face a shortage of skilled labor. My administration will focus squarely on training and developing both young people and displaced production workers to close the skills gap in this country.

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See Chain Reactions: David Blanchard's blog about supply chain management.
"There is an unhealthy 'us-versus-them' dichotomy in manufacturing circles that tends to push politicians into one of two camps: either pro-management or pro-labor, but not both. My administration will not play that kind of game. My administration will be pro-manufacturing. The United States became a super-power largely on the strength of its manufacturing capacity, and we're not about to relinquish our standing in the world just because other countries have rigged their economies to accommodate production wages that are so low that they're barely above slave labor. We will incent companies to invest in technologies that ensure U.S. manufacturers remain globally competitive.

"That being said, there's an unhealthy expectation that the government exists to provide jobs for people, and not just jobs, but high-paying jobs. Yes, it is a tragedy whenever a company downsizes an employee, but sometimes manufacturing companies go out of business for the simple reason that nobody wants to buy their products any more. There was a time in this country when we used to call that 'progress,' when technology allowed the buggy whip factories to close while automotive plants opened. My administration will foster the creation of new industries, focusing particularly on energy efficiency. Instead of promising to 'bring jobs back,' I pledge that we will create better jobs with a sustainable future. We are the most productive country in the world, and that is not going to change.

"As you know, my campaign theme has been 'continuous improvement,' and just like the best manufacturers in the country, my administration will operate on lean principles. Beginning with my inauguration, the White House Web site will post daily metrics of how we're doing on eliminating waste from government."

Well, so much for daydreaming. They say we get the leaders we deserve, so with any luck we'll be found worthy of a leader who believes in a strong and resilient manufacturing industry.

David Blanchard is IW's editor-in-chief. He is based in Cleveland. Also see Chain Reactions: David Blanchard's blog about supply chain management.

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