Dear Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain,
By now you have celebrated your hard-fought victory and are busy preparing to take office in January 2009. You have much to consider in the next few months, and I wonder if a President has ever come to office facing such a variety of crises: a financial sector in disintegration, an economy in free-fall, unemployment on the rise, a two-front war in the Middle East, traditional energy supplies on the wane, global warming on the rise, and a divided and highly partisan electorate hungry for a steady hand at the nation’s tiller.
At the risk of overburdening you, I’d like to add another topic to your to-do list. You’ll soon consider who will work with you in your Cabinet. You’ll select leaders to head the Departments of State, Energy, Agriculture, Treasury, Defense, Commerce and Transportation. My question is this: Who will head your Department of Manufacturing?
The question, of course, is rhetorical. As you know, there is no Department of Manufacturing. More importantly — and despite the depth and size of the American federal government — this nation does not have a coherent industrial policy. While you prepare to take on the mantle of President, I hope you will seriously consider the future of American manufacturing, and how it might be preserved. As you know, America is filled with communities that, led by creative engineers, scientists and inventors, were born and prospered under the aegis of manufacturing, making everything from cars to machinery, appliances, furniture, clothes and military equipment. America was and continues to be proud of this legacy. Americans share a strong belief that we can design and manufacture anything — that our ability to produce is unlike any in the world.
The last few decades, however, have seen a steady erosion of American manufacturing prowess. Many manufacturers have been compelled to protect profits by cutting costs — often by exporting jobs. Such evolution in a market-based economy might be a natural part of keeping the cost of finished goods in check, and in a highly competitive global market, that strategy has worked in the short term. But what about the long term? Is it good for America? How does the job exodus affect America’s manufacturing capability? Are we still able to make anything? And if we’ve lost that ability, can we get it back? During your campaigns, you and your opponent made much of the need to pay closer attention to energy, defense, healthcare and treasury policy, and rightly so. But robust manufacturing is as fundamental to a robust economy as any of these.
I don’t know exactly what a well-made industrial policy would look like. But I do know that there are lots of people throughout the manufacturing community much smarter than I am, who do. The federal government can and should enlist their help in crafting a policy that encourages individual and corporate innovation, risk-taking and domestic production to preserve American competitiveness — and give our kids the knowledge and tools they’ll need to be a manufacturing force in the world for generations to come.
When you’re ready to create that Department of Manufacturing, we have in the composites industry some strategic thinkers who can help. I’d be happy to introduce you. In the meantime, best of luck in the new job, and here’s to a stronger and healthier manufacturing community.