Just In Time -- A Manufacturer's Litmus Test for Politicians

April 15, 2008
Anybody running for office should be able to respond to these straightforward questions with unambiguous answers.

This November, 10% of the U.S. population -- the percentage of U.S. workers employed in manufacturing -- will enter the voting booth armed with their hopes and prayers that this year maybe, just maybe, somebody will be elected who is on their side. And based on current trends, the likelihood of a manufacturing-savvy person ending up in a high office seems to be slim to none, with the smart money right now on "none." The good news, though, is that there is still time for the manufacturing community to weigh in, and to that end I propose the establishment of a benchmark to help us determine if a candidate for high office is qualified to speak about manufacturing.

When we conduct our annual IW Best Plants competition, we ask applicants to complete a comprehensive entry form that looks at their plant's operations in more than a dozen different categories, and to illustrate their continuous improvement efforts. Surely somebody seriously considering a run for the White House should be capable of answering a similar set of questions that show what they've done in the past to improve and sustain U.S. manufacturing. For that matter, any politician running for national office -- whether it be governor, Congressperson or senator -- ought to be able to directly and precisely address what exactly they plan to do to further the interests of an industry which, all told, accounts for $1.5 trillion in gross domestic product, or roughly 11% of the total U.S. economy.

Taking that as our premise, here is the IndustryWeek Litmus Test for Politicians:

Vision Statement: Explain your vision and mission for the U.S. manufacturing industry.

Management Practices: Have you personally ever worked for a manufacturing company? If so, for how long, and in what capacity?

Number of people on your staff who have held supervisory and/or executive positions at manufacturing companies.

Customer Focus: How many bills have you proposed or sponsored on behalf of the U.S. manufacturing industry? Describe them. What percentage have actually been voted on?

Employment Practices: Number of manufacturing jobs in your district/state prior to your election to public office.

Number of manufacturing jobs in your district/state today. Explain.

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See Chain Reactions: David Blanchard's blog about supply chain management.

Competitiveness: What incentives has your district/state offered to manufacturing companies to attract or keep them in your district/state?

Environmental Stewardship: Amount (in pounds) of hazardous wastes and/or toxic chemicals produced in your district/state prior to your election. Amount produced today. Explain.

Amount (in U.S. dollars) in campaign contributions that you've accepted from manufacturing companies listed in the top 10% of the nation's biggest polluters. Explain.

Trade Practices: Amount (in U.S. dollars) of goods exported from your district/state overseas. Amount imported from overseas to your district/state. Is your district/state currently operating with a trade surplus or a deficit? Explain.

Training & Education: Describe the manufacturing training programs your district/state has launched while you've been in office.

Research & Development: Amount (in U.S. dollars) that your district/state has made available for R&D efforts since you've been elected.

Are there any questions you'd like politicians to answer before you decide whether to vote for them? E-mail me your suggestions, and I'll add them to the online version of this litmus test. Here are some suggestions readers have offered:

What is your position on the Employee Free Choice Act (HR 800)?
-- Jeff Imes, W.P. Hickman Co.

How will you focus on and address infrastructure projects?
-- Dallas Robinson, Terra Nitrogen

1. What do you propose to do policy-wise to help high school students and younger workers upgrade their knowledge and skills so they can qualify for the mor technical jobs being developed by U.S. manufacturers?
2. What incentives would you propose to assist incumbent, older and/or laid-off workers acquire the 21st Century knowledge and skills they need to qualify for continued employment?
3. What new policies would you support to build an innovation-to-commercialization superhighway so that U.S. manufacturers can produce a constant stream of new and valuable products for the global marketplace?
-- Fred Wentzel, National Council for Advanced Manufacturing

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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