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From the Desk of Jack Healy, MassMEP Lean Expert

A Framework to Address the Challenges of Manufacturing

As best that I can understand it, a “black hole” is a theoretical region in which there is a gravitational pull that no substance, light or communication which enters can ever escape.  This is an apt description to describe the last 30 years or so where the communications for the needs of the U.S. manufacturing sector have been passed in to what must be described a “black hole of manufacturing policy” as nothing has ever come out.  Indeed if there was a message that did come out, it was the understanding for the average American that the decline of manufacturing was inevitable and that manufacturing was not viewed as being essential to the economy as we could simply buy what we needed.
So it was a skeptical audience of approximately 100 manufacturers, that came to the United Regional Chambers meeting in Attleboro Massachusetts, to hear what Ron Bloom the Senior Counselor to the President on Manufacturing Policy, had to say regarding the future of manufacturing. 

Mr. Bloom, who was brought to Massachusetts by Congressman Jim McGovern, ourrbloom long term champion of manufacturing in our state, connected with the audience through  an articulate presentation of the administration‘s  “Framework For Revitalizing American Manufacturing.” Mr. Bloom detailed the Framework’s strategies as to what  has been done and what they hope to achieve as well as the importance relative to this President going on the record saying “Manufacturing Matters and is a critical part of the American story.” Mr. Bloom made the point that the framework‘s manufacturing agenda is a deep recognition of this commitment. Mr. Bloom went on to describe the strategies that the administration is focused on by :

1. Providing workers with the opportunity to obtain the skills necessary to be highly
“The geniuses of American manufacturing are the people who work in it.” Government’s vital role is to invest where private investment will under invest, such as creating a skilled work force. It is crucial that both hands-on as well as knowledge skills be relevant and that they administration’s support of our community colleges and primary education systems “ Race to the Top” will ensure.

2. Investing in the creation of new technologies and business practices.
Efforts in this area should focus on advanced research without immediate commercial application, where again private sectors are likely to under-invest. The participation of the Massachusetts based battery maker A123 Systems into lithium batteries is illustrative of this type of support. Finally, the government has a role to play in helping to bring to scale emerging technologies, such as their support for a green economy, as well as facilitating the diffusion of business innovations that can help American manufacturers compete.

Mr. Bloom went on to note that there will shortly be a new IPO for the first automotive company offered since 1956, and that there are currently a dozen new automotive manufacturing companies who are in the process of now entering the market, with the belief that they can offer a competitive automobile.  While some of these products will undoubtedly fail, we should anticipate that we will probably see three new OEM’s operating within the next five years

3. Developing stable and efficient capital markets for business investment.
We need to structure our capital markets in such way to reward the banks who are willing to support small businesses lending.  He went on to describe a number of initiatives including the 48c tax benefits that have been undertaken to make this happen as well as the importance of such investments in highly sophisticated equipment has to the overall growth of our economy.

4. Helping communities and workers transition to a better future.
We should be proud that manufacturing has traditionally provided a significant highly paid employment base for many communities and the need to support these communities now in transition.  As Mr. Bloom noted, that based on his visits to other manufacturers earlier in the day he realized that if anyone who is interested in manufacturing jewelry should consider doing so in places like Attleboro as the eco-system is already there to support such companies as well as future growth in new technologies.  In situations like this, the government can and should help both the workers and the community transition to activities that can sustain them in the future.

5. Investing in an advanced infrastructure that can support manufacturing
The competitiveness of American manufacturers depends critically on a modern, reliable and efficient infrastructure so that goods, energy, people and information can move cost-effectively from one place to another. This not only includes roads, bridges, airports etc. but other things such as financial systems, broadband internet, and smart grid, all of which are being supported by this administration.

6. Ensuring market access and a level playing field.
 While the U.S. is a very small part of the world, we must recognize that if we are to grow we must look to sell things outside of the U.S.  The rules of trade are set by the government and we must be sure that those who wish to sell the goods that they make in the U.S. into other countries have the market access they need and that those who sell domestically do not face unfair competition. Mr. Bloom stated that while we cannot be telling people what to do with a heavy hand, the administration can no longer be the world’s consumer and will aggressively pursue Balanced Growth.
7. Improving the business climate, especially for manufacturing.
Consistent with our desire for clean air, water and reducing the release of greenhouse gases as well as the need for fiscal responsibility; we need legal, tax and regulatory regimes that promote American manufacturing and do not place an undue burden on those who wish to manufacture products in America.  This framework offering is a good first step in this direction.  The reason it has been called a “framework” is in recognition that U.S. manufacturing is a multifaceted and dynamic sector and that many more strategies will be added to this plan over the coming years to create an economy that is interested in supporting investment and production.

In summary, the remarks and responses to the concluding questions by the audience were well received for their clarity and directness.  Paul Belham, the owner of Bell’s Powder Coating , who as the biggest skeptic of the small manufacturer’s voice being heard in Washington was instrumental in having Congressman McGovern reach out to bring Mr. Bloom to Attleboro area, responded positively at the conclusion, “That I am excited about his (Bloom’s) outlook and what he can bring to the table”, exclaimed Mr. Belham. 

While the message has been heard and the response has been offered there is an important caveat – as noted by Mr. Bloom several times during the day. “That it took us a long time to get where we are and that many of the structures and agencies that formerly supported manufacturing have atrophied or disappeared.  That no one should expect a silver bullet as it will take a long time and hard work to correct where we are.”

For anyone who may be interested in now correcting where their respective companies are currently, MassMEP offers a hands-on workshop that teaches first line mangers on how to use Lean tools and improving teamwork – Lean Management in the Fast Lane.  Everyone who has taken this course comes away with a deep appreciation of the pay back on training in the workplace.  Click here for complete course and registration information.  

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