A march on Washington sounds like a grand idea, but life isn't like a Jimmy Stewart movie. So toolmakers can go ahead and plan their march to the capital - provided they can deliver a large number of participants that will make the exercise impressive to outsiders. But they also need to continue the behind-the-scenes work that, in the long run, will be more important to their effort to preserve U.S. mold-making jobs.
Plans for the march are still pretty sketchy. At this point it will probably happen early next year. Backers include two key trade groups: the American Mold Builders Association and the National Tooling & Machining Association.
The march was the brainchild of Bill Cermak, a sales engineer with Pro Mold & Die Inc. in Roselle, Ill. He got the idea after reading about a similar march last year by lumber companies that led to both media attention and legislative action.
Cermak's employer, which makes injection molds, has struggled like many others. He blames competition from outside the United States, including China.
Toolmakers understand this is a complex issue. Many have spent a lot of time in the past year building a case to prove that mold makers are suffering, that unfair competition plays a role in the problem, and that the government can do something to help.
The U.S. International Trade Commission is considering that case now, but the blocking and tackling has only just begun. Once the panel submits its report to the House Ways and Means Committee on Oct. 21, the issue officially will be in the hands of legislators.
The tooling industry doesn't have the numbers or political clout of the steel industry, which recently was able to convince the government to levy tariffs on some steel imports. Toolmakers probably won't win tariffs. But if they can push the right buttons they can win government help on training and tax issues.
In the meantime, smart toolmakers aren't waiting for help. They're automating to improve efficiency, partnering with overseas firms, and redoubling efforts to please customers.
As original equipment manufacturers shift work to low-cost molders in Asia, some tooling work is sure to follow. And the economic slowdown has meant that, at least for the past two years, there's been less work to go around. A march on Washington won't solve those problems.
But a march may help draw attention to the situation.