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The Presidential Debate: Will Manufacturing Be Front and Center?

Posted By David Brousell, October 01, 2012 at 9:46 AM, in Category: Industrial Policy

This Wednesday evening, the first of three presidential debates will take place. When the two candidates, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, face each other in Denver, expectations will be high. Spectators will be watching to see how the two men present themselves, whether there will be any memorable one-liners, and if the dynamics of the race will be affected.

One might also hope that some of the substantive issues facing the United States—like the future of manufacturing in this country—will get the attention they deserve. After all, manufacturing is central to any discussion of economic growth and vitality.

Nearly 17 million people are involved in manufacturing in the United States, with 12 million of these directly employed in well-paying manufacturing jobs. This community, if you will, collectively produces $1.7 trillion of value to the economy, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, representing 11.7% of U.S. gross domestic product. Moreover, two-thirds of all private sector research and development happens in manufacturing, making the sector critical to future national innovation, competitiveness, and prosperity.

A national conversation about manufacturing is also inextricably linked to a number of other critical national issues that should be discussed Wednesday night. Secondary school education, particularly with regard to science and math, as well as the affordability of college education, are fundamental to the future of manufacturing as the industry grapples with a wave of retirements and workforce skills issues. Tax and trade policies, particularly as they affect the structural cost U.S. manufacturers bear, must also be on the table.

But, perhaps most important, the candidates need to discuss ways that government, education, and the private sector can work together to accelerate innovation—a variation of what Muhtar Kent, chairman and chief executive of the Coca-Cola Company, calls the “golden triangle at work.” This discussion may very well be the key to future national competitiveness.

Will we get all of this on Wednesday night? Such a comprehensive discussion may be a bit much to expect within the kind of debate format the candidates will have, but, at the minimum, I’ll be looking for manufacturing to command a significant portion of the evening. The industry at large, though, must keep itself prominent on the national radar screen by talking about the essential role of manufacturing in society, its strengths and challenges, and, most importantly, its future.

We will all have an opportunity to do so on Friday of this weekwhen Manufacturing Day rolls out across the country. Co-produced by the National Associationof Manufacturers, the Manufacturing Institute, the Fabricators and ManufacturersAssociation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the U.S.Commerce Department’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership,Manufacturing Day will be a series of open houses, public tours and careerworkshops at companies across the nation.

To find out more about Manufacturing Day, go to www.mfgday.com

And, finally, don’t forget to vote!

Category: Industrial Policy
Written by David Brousell

Global Vice President, General Manager and Editorial Director of the Manufacturing Leadership Council

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