A strong and vibrant manufacturing base is essential to our nation's economic stability, a strong middle class, and employment opportunities for young men and women across America. The good news is that manufacturing output and employment have been growing over the past 15 months, and in many ways, the sector has played an outsized role in our economic recovery. But our nation will never realize its full potential to grow the manufacturing sector of our economy without a robust strategy and aggressive set of public policies to complement private sector efforts by business and labor to maintain a globally competitive industry.
The case for a permanent capacity for strategic planning on our manufacturing base, evolving to make use of our workers’ skills and the latest technology as well as responding to global trends, could not be stronger when one considers that no matter how innovative or competitive individual manufacturers may be, there are some problems they simply cannot solve on their own. This was recently articulated by Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
- Research and development can be expensive and hard to capture profits, such as in advanced batteries;
- No single firm could possibly coordinate national projects like the smart grid or internet;
- Firms often need assistance in applying academic innovations to the production process;
- Manufacturers often face barriers to accessing credit for entry, expansion, and innovation; and
- Manufacturers need assistance in exporting as well as push back against unfair trade practices.
The Commerce Department leads the federal government’s efforts to assist manufacturers with these challenges. For example, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program provides on-the-ground services. The International Trade Administration (ITA) helps manufacturers boost exports and seek relief from unfair trade practices. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) offers cutting edge research on production, innovation, and commercialization.