The squeaky wheel gets the grease is an axiom that hasn’t played politically for manufacturing in the past 3 years. Perhaps the squeak is simply not loud enough among the bigger, booming voices of other interests. But it seems that may be changing for the good.
At long last, events of the past few months seem to indicate that the powers that be in Washington are finally hearing the collective voices of U.S. manufacturing. And in addition to hearing us, they seem to actually be moving closer to action. Here’s a quick summary of some initiatives that have occurred in recent months.
- The President has acknowledged the need for a “manufacturing czar” to work exclusively on the problems faced by the manufacturing base in the United States. Hopefully this “czar” is more successful than the one appointed to rid the nation of illegal drugs. Of course, that battle goes on. Whether the czar idea has legs, only time will tell. The important point is that manufacturing’s cry for attention to its plight has been heard and acknowledged at the highest level.
- The House and Senate, in addition to the Treasury and Commerce Departments, have jumped on the China currency manipulation issue. As I write this column, Treasury Secretary John Snow is in Beijing trying to take some of the inscrutableness out of the Chinese currency policy. Of course the Chinese have already said they have no intention of cooperating on the yuan/dollar exchange rate. Well, it never hurts to ask . . . repeatedly.
- There seems to be a polar shift in administration support of the 18-month-old steel tariffs. Perhaps a light bulb has come on that illuminates the interdependency of manufacturing. The administration may be realizing that sometimes what looks like government help for one segment turns out to be injurious to others.
So from this news, and the tax incentives passed earlier, it looks like lawmakers and regulators ARE getting the message.
But, manufacturing must not take a “wait and help us” attitude. More than likely whatever help comes, if any, will be too late. Our trade associations are lobbying the halls of government on manufacturing’s behalf daily. However that’s only one piece of the recovery puzzle. Manufacturing must do its part by investing in itself to keep the productivity numbers moving in the right direction. It’s risk and reward, for sure. However it’s also about survival. Upgrading our businesses to leaner and more profitable enterprises is the key to taking advantage of any crumbs Washington throws our way.