By Brian Papke
The time is now for manufacturing in the United States. Exporting is on the rise, we have faster tax write-offs on capital equipment, and lending has improved dramatically. The US dollar is attracting foreign work to this country, and in an increasing number of instances, it’s no longer more cost-effective or efficient to have work done offshore. But most importantly, today’s advanced manufacturing technology is generating the highest levels of productivity ever. When compared with the economic climate of about three years ago, current US manufacturing is definitely experiencing some positive momentum, which needs to be maintained to ensure continued opportunities. However, the only way we will accomplish this is by making US manufacturing a national priority.
This may come as a shock, but we as a nation, over time, have done a disservice to the future of US manufacturing by allowing ourselves to be convinced that all manufacturing has moved offshore, or even that the US is no longer an advantageous place to produce goods. But one must consider the fact that one-fifth of the goods currently produced in the world are produced in the US. Add to that the fact that China produces about one-seventh, and one arrives at a decidedly different conclusion. Beyond all the positives, however, there remains a definitive need to set our political agendas aside and implement realistic programs and strategies to promote and continue to grow US manufacturing.
We need to create a government framework that is less intrusive and more supportive. Such a framework would center on increasing skilled labor and on creating more favorable government regulations concerning unionization, the EPA, and exports. Also, if certain tax laws work, policy makers should keep them in place to help bolster manufacturing, and not use them as political footballs. Moreover, contrary to what many would believe, labor costs in the US are not often the stumbling block, and certainly not the whole of the issue. While it’s true that a significant number of products are manufactured in countries with lower labor rates, it’s also true that just as many other products are economically viable to manufacture in the US.
Given the current favorable conditions, foreign companies are now considering the option of manufacturing in the US, and those foreign manufacturers, already established here, foresee expansions of their production operations, all of which further substantiates this nation’s current manufacturing viability. At Mazak, we’ve expanded our manufacturing facility 15 times since beginning production in the US and will continue to do so. We’ve hired over 270 people over the past year and currently have a number of open positions. Yet the fact remains that US manufacturing is constantly being underrated and under-supported and, what’s worse, in dire need of skilled labor. The current labor crisis is real and won’t improve until we work together to change the impressions young people have about manufacturing. As part of the suggested pro-US manufacturing governmental framework, we need to aggressively market the fact that careers in manufacturing are both lucrative and respectable. Today’s modern manufacturing facilities are nothing like those of 30, or even 10, years ago. Clean, safe, and very high-tech manufacturing facilities now house more advanced and sophisticated computerized equipment than ever before.
Mazak is actively engaging in strategies to help solve the skilled labor problem in our area and across North America—working closely with local community and technical colleges to offer training programs to employees and surrounding communities. We also maintain our own long-established apprentice program at Mazak, and we encourage all US manufacturers to do likewise. More funding must be allocated to vocational schools and community college technical programs, and the government must champion the cause by promoting all the opportunities manufacturing has to offer. When we talk to young people about producing medical implants or aircraft components, they begin to understand the importance of our industry. And during these conversations, we are amazed to realize that most young people today are completely unaware of the significant income earnings potential a career in manufacturing offers versus that of other economy sectors.
Finally, more of this country’s policy makers need to visit and experience these US manufacturing facilities firsthand. This will allow policy makers to gain a meaningful understanding about how to help and in doing so, make US manufacturing a national priority and preserve a cornerstone of our economy. But most importantly, create jobs in the US. ME
This article was first published in the November 2011 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.