Friday, September 9, 2011

The Case for a National Manufacturing Policy, In Conclusion

President Obama spoke on his jobs bill last night and ignited a national discussion about what to do about getting the U.S. economy going again. I didn't hear or see the speech, but I read it. I was disappointed to have to read three quarters of the way through the speech before I found the "M" word. Where was manufacturing?

With no specifics about how, he said, "We’re going to make sure the next generation of manufacturing takes root... in the United States of America." Manufacturing is the key part of the national discussion.

However, I believe that manufacturing deserves first paragraph billing in any national jobs policy. I think the case for a national manufacturing policy is strong. In fact, I think the "how to do it" part of such a policy can be made in Licking County.

All week, pre- and post-Labor Day, I've been spotlighting manufacturing aimed at making the case for a national manufacturing policy. There are key areas which I think need attention and focus.

It's time to focus on embracing manufacturing, investing in skills training, removing uncertainty about public infrastructure's future, achieving energy independence, and reducing regulations.

These are not just national issues.  There are local- and state-level policy challenges too.

Embracing Manufacturing.  Licking County is better than most, I think, in having a citizenry that embraces manufacturing.  There's always room for more believers in the concept that manufacturing is alive.  The STEM program at The Works is a national model for how communities can prepare parents and the next generation workforce for working in advanced manufacturing. 

Ohio's STEM efforts, on the other hand, are almost solely urban-focused, socially-oriented education programs that are not reaching a critical mass to benefit manufacturing industries.  Ohio needs to do a better job embracing manufacturing and recognizing that its Ohio suburbs where the action will be.

Investing in Skills Training.  Licking County, for 40+ years, has been a national leader in this area as well.  Central Ohio Technical College and our vocational school, now known as C-TEC, have figured out how to reach local industry and train to their needs.  C-TEC's new 79|Seventy Manufacturing Certification Program has been busy working with 20 local manufacturers preparing a pre-employment trained pool of manufacturing workers. 

Because it is self-sustaining and because it works, C-TEC possesses a model for skills training that could be replicated statewide and nationally. It should be and Ohio is absolutely the right place to start.  Encouraging pre-employment training for manufacturers should be a state priority.

Removing Uncertainty About Public Infrastructure's Future.  There's little Licking County can do in this regard but to keep advocating for infrastructure improvements and encouraging our Congressmen and Senators to get a transportation bill done.

Completion of the Cherry Valley Interchange portion of the 161/16 project is critical.  Attention should continue to be devoted to the Columbus-Pittsburgh Corridor too.  Based on past-looking projections of growth needs, the state has all but suspended planning for eastern-going highway improvements at a time that the oil and gas industry is about to boom.  Time to catch up.  Transportation planners need to get out a crystal ball I think.

Achieving Energy Independence.  Licking County is on the fringe of a ready-to-boom oil and gas area of the nation.  The Utica shale play promises to change our region of Ohio for a very long time, and we're poised to benefit.  Even if the nation should fail to achieve energy independence, it's clear that reduced transportation costs for natural gas should play a role in improving the competitiveness of our heavy manufacturers. 

Governor Kasich has an Energy Summit coming up later this month that is, absolutely, the kind of role that government should play to convene stakeholders and spotlight the issue.  Keep it coming.

Reducing Regulations.  Again, this is, mostly, a national issue.  Licking County started a county building department that is the model of efficiency and super responsive to industry.  Agencies like the US EPA and Army Corps of Engineers could learn a thing or two from Jack Pryor's shop on how to process permits. 

Ohio's Lt. Governor is in charge of an effort to reduce Ohio regulations.  I'll admit to not hearing much about this, but I am hopeful for more to come in the near future.

Bottom Line:  Licking County enjoyed hearing from national author Joel Kotkin in mid August with a look forward at the potential for the United States in 2050. The potential for a positive future for manufacturing was one of Kotkin's key messages.

The U.S. is poised to grow manufacturing while we grow our population. We can spend the "demographic dividend" and seize the advantage of over our GDP competitors by boosting manufacturing. We can get on a quicker road to recovery and job creation.

A national manufacturing policy is a huge part of getting there.

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