Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The National Manufacturing Strategy Act - A Step in the Right Direction?

My regular readers (all three of you) are aware that I was once a machinist. At least I think I told you. If I didn't, I guess I'll tell you now.

I was once a machinist, and a Certified one at that. During high school.

After I graduated, I found work at a local tool and die shop making tools and dies. They had an apprenticeship program that I attended for four years. Then I was a certified Tool and Die Maker.

A few years later, I got a job as a Quality Control Inspector. Soon, I was a Certified QC Inspector.

Does anyone see a trend emerging?

I went from that job to another in manufacturing where I learned how to program and set up computer controlled machine tools. Another skill for the old resume: CNC Programmer and Setup.

I then moved into a job as a computer draftsman drawing computerized machine shop blueprints. That's another skill set: Computer Draftsman.

The logical extension of that was the next position as a Mechanical Designer. One more resume bullet point.

Then it was on to Shop Foreman and eventually to Manufacturing Manager.

So I've done quite a lot in manufacturing. More than most people. Along the way, I found an old saying that fit me perfectly. "Find a job you love and you'll never work another day in your life." Being the gearhead I was, I'd finally found a job that was engaging and allowed me to work with my hands and my mind. For, you see, there's a lot to know to be a really good machinist. Things like geometry and trigonometry. Laws of Physics. Metallurgy. How to make metal parts harder or softer.

In short, being a machinist isn't just something you can turn off. The industry is made for those with inquiring minds. I'd like to challenge our current manufacturing czar, Ron Bloom, to a Jeopardy game where all of the categories are subsets of manufacturing. He'd be crying like a little girl when I was through winning.

But I digress.

Watching the jobs I loved disappear to some faraway land hurt. Not only should I now be making some serious money, I would also have the chance to pass along some of my knowledge to a new generation, just as I was able to learn from my industrial mentors.

How could this happen? How could a nation that once valued "Rosie the Riveter" ever turn its back on an entire sector of the economy that contributed so much to our nation and the world? How could we ignore the obvious benefits to our standard of living by not promoting manufacturing? Too many things just didn't make sense. And we've suffered greatly as a result of, wait for it, uninformed politicians.

Today, that has the potential to change. We're not so far removed from the time when we were the worlds' Maker of Things, and some in Congress are starting to finally realize that we should be doing that again.

In a rare display of bipartisanship, the House recently passed the National Manufacturing Strategy Act of 2010. This bill, while not directly addressing what needs to be done to encourage American manufacturing, sets up the framework for the President and Congress to start examining policies and how they effect the industry.

HR 4692 has the potential to actually benefit the country. You don't know how much it surprises me to type that sentence during this administration.

Naturally, it also has the potential to be filled with nonsense and to be skewed in favor of the unions, or some type of fantastical "green initiative". If that is the case, then just consider the $30M price tag of this bill as another waste of your tax dollars.

This will be what I'll be looking for from any committee:

1. Reducing the regulatory burden on business. This is rather sweeping, but should be the foundation of any recommendations. The last twenty years have seen more and more costly regulations imposed on businesses, so much so that we're reaching the saturation point: we can't keep on regulating the private sector to death. More recently, we have the Health Care Bill and the new Financial Regulations Bill and others coming from this Congress. Since no one in Congress actually read these bills before they voted on them, even the members of Congress don't know the provisions nor how they will negatively impact businesses. These bills set up countless new regulatory agencies and edicts that will cost jobs.

2. Environmental regulations need to be scaled back dramatically. Of course, we all know what would follow: the wailing and gnashing of teeth and the rending of (union made) garments by the radical environmentalist groups who now control our agenda despite not being elected to any office. These people have somehow convinced themselves and many gullible others that we should be living in some pre-industrial paradise with none of the modern day conveniences like air conditioning.

Naturally, if the Cap-and-Trade goes through, that one piece of legislation will make this whole exercise irrelevant. We won't be able to afford the energy we need to manufacture anything. Which brings me to a third point.

3. We need inexpensive energy.  Manufacturing is energy intensive. Large machine tools require a great deal of electricity. This should give us the incentive to develop local sources of energy that include oil, natural gas, and nuclear power and reduce or eliminate our dependence of foreign sources of energy. Needless to say, it's already in our national interest to do this, but weak-willed politicians have actively prevented us from achieving this goal.

4. We need a national right-to-work law. There is no rational reason to be forced to join a union in order to work.

We have now a national, unified interest in reviving our manufacturing sector. We can diversify our job market through the many other indirect jobs that are also required like painters, welders, truck drivers and others.

I hope that common sense will prevail in this effort.

We could use the jobs.

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