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What Does 'Made in America' Mean to You?

Mark Shortt
Editorial Director
Design-2-Part Magazine

For many Americans, the words 'Made in the USA' generate strong feelings of pride, loyalty, respect, and patriotism. Companies are also increasingly finding that manufacturing in America often makes good business sense for reasons that include easier logistics, speed of delivery, higher quality, and protection of intellectual property.

For many, Made in America means pride in workmanship that isn't easy to come by anywhere else. Many manufacturing leaders believe the American workforce is the best in the world when it comes to manufacturing high-quality parts.

But in order for Made in America to continue to thrive well into the future, strong efforts need to be made to ensure a continual flow of skilled and talented workers into available positions at our nation's small and mid-sized manufacturing companies, which comprise the great majority of American manufacturing firms. Much work has begun in this area, but much work still remains. It's important to update our technical training and community college programs to focus once again on careers that are in demand in manufacturing, like CNC machining, welding, and other related jobs. In this vein, the efforts of manufacturing leaders who have established partnerships with local universities, community colleges, and high schools to orient school curricula to available employment opportunities are examples that are well worth heeding.

One of these leaders is Steve Blue, president and CEO of Miller Ingenuity, a maker of railway safety products in Winona, Minnesota. Blue has established a partnership with Winona State University, whereby Miller Ingenuity works closely with Winona State's business school on developing curricula, as well as on hosting students, partnerships, and internships in its company.

"It's an excellent relationship because I'm interested in it and I engage in it, and the College of Business does, too," said Blue in an interview. "I don't see enough of that around the country. I see snippets of it, but not enough, and that needs to be done with every major university and every major company, and the small ones, too."

In addition to "upskilling" the workforce to meet future demand for manufacturing positions, there are numerous things that can be done to help make American manufacturers more competitive in the global marketplace. These include modernizing the nation's vast infrastructure of roads, bridges, and railways; working to redress the trade imbalance with China; and reforming the tax code in ways that help promote bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States and ensure that American manufacturers face a similar tax environment that companies face in other countries.

Modernizing the nation's infrastructure is important to manufacturing in a couple of different ways, Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, told Design-2-Part Magazine in an interview.

"Getting goods to market, or supplies into the factory, depends on having an efficient infrastructure," he said. "And so investing in infrastructure smartly will make our economy more efficient. The second way in which it can help manufacturing is that the infrastructure investment itself can create a demand for manufactured materials, particularly if you're a transit producer, or if you're making iron and steel, or you're in building construction materials. It could certainly provide a boost there, and you're providing a public good at the same time."

The issue of redressing the trade imbalance with China is a little trickier, but worth pursuing. There are a couple of approaches that could be effective without doing a lot of damage to either country's economy.

"Many Chinese leaders know that it's in their interest to move away from an export driven economy to an economy based more on consumption that will help to increase the standard of living for its middle class, and that that transition is long overdue," said Paul. But what tangible measures are within reach?

Just making the trade deficit a higher priority in our trade policy should help.

"Just sitting across the table from Chinese leaders and saying 'We're serious about wanting to bring down the trade deficit to increase American exports into China. We need your help doing this, and let's set some goals here,' because China is, after all, a very state-driven economy," said Paul. "Let's not pretend like we're in competition with the invisible hand. There are firms that are guided by the invisible hand when it comes to China; we most certainly are not. And so I think having that conversation is important.

"And then, showing the willingness to utilize some of the tools to defer unfair trade practices will be important. I suspect the administration will file some trade cases and may press China on currency and intellectual property theft so that the economic leaders of China get the message that there will be a response to what's happening."

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