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From The Editor
James M. Borneman, Editor In Chief

US Manufacturing: Will Candidates Respond?

James M. Borneman, Editor In Chief

It was quite a conference call one recent morning. The American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition (AMTAC) pulled together an eclectic mix of North Carolina-based manufacturers from textiles and other industries, as well as unions and associations, to call upon 2008 US presidential candidates to come clean with their policies on domestic manufacturing and international trade.

The voices: Allen Gant, president and CEO, Glen Raven Inc.; Harris Raynor, Southern Regional vice president, UNITE HERE; Anderson Warlick, president and CEO, Parkdale Inc.; Robert C. Baugh, executive director, AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council; Jason Copland, president and CEO, Copland Industries; Steve Rotman, president, Ameritech Die and Mold, Inc.; Pat McFadden, director of governmental affairs, Nucor; Amy Daugherty, owner, Miami Thread; and Robert Earnhardt, president, Superior Tooling Inc. All made it very clear: Manufacturing is being ignored, if not marginalized, by the US government’s inability to have a comprehensive economic strategy that provides opportunity for competitive manufacturing companies to thrive.

Whether it is lopsided trade deals, lack of enforcement that encourages fraud, inconsistent trade rules, lack of tax policies that encourage investment in US manufacturing, lack of progressive energy policies targeting more domestic sources of energy — these subjects are the ones manufacturers need addressed.

What the die and mold makers said was amazing: Apparently, some molds imported from China are cheaper than the US manufacturers’ cost of materials.

McFadden made his points clear, stating that his steel company competes against a foreign nation’s policies, not a company. And if a foreign government embraced an industry and supported it in a mercantilist way, why wouldn’t the US government object? Why wouldn’t the US government see the value of Nucor’s well-trained, well-paid workforce— let alone how critical steel is to economic sovereignty of the nation?

It was interesting to hear these non-textile voices passionately frustrated by the same lack of economic direction that textiles has faced for so long. It also was very heartening to hear that US textiles has great leadership — leadership interested in continuing the fight for rational, consistent trade and economic policies that simply provide an opportunity for a fair marketplace. There was no call for protectionism. There was a call for understanding that manufacturing plays a significant role in growing, stable and strong economies; and provides well-paid, benefit-laden opportunities that are significant to a healthy middle class.

The benefit to consumers of lower-priced imports, which are  said to hold down inflation, is only real if it does not come at a significant price. Falling average incomes, loss of health benefits to laid-off workers unable to achieve the level of employment they once had, an ever-upward creeping trade deficit, erosion of town tax bases because of lost operating plants — these are real costs. Maybe it’s their misconception that manufacturing is the “old” economy, but the US government analysts should be smart enough to do the math.

May/June 2008