Patrick Cleary of the National Association of Manufacturers said getting federal action on issues such as legal reform, health-care costs and taxes starts out at the water cooler and the lunchroom - by getting Americans to talk about manufacturing.
That ``chatter'' phase leads to public debate, then to congressional debate and finally, changes in the law that can help the nation's factories, Cleary told the Plastics News Executive Forum 2004 in Summerlin. In a Feb. 2 speech, he encouraged manufacturing officials to join NAM's Campaign for Manufacturing.
There's a lot to talk about.
``Standing alone, [the U.S. manufacturing sector] would be the fifth-largest economy in the world. Our share of the U.S. economy alone is bigger than the economy of Canada and Mexico combined. Bigger than the economy of the [United Kingdom]. Bigger than the economy of France and bigger than the economy of China - mighty, mighty China,'' said Cleary, senior vice president of public and external affairs of the Washington-based association.
NAM boasts a membership of 14,000 companies and 350 affiliated associations, together representing an estimated 18 million workers.
He said manufacturing is 60 percent bigger than the U.S. retail sector. It's 90 percent larger than transportation and utilities. Manufacturing is responsible for three-fourths of all U.S. exports.
About two-thirds of all U.S. research and development output goes to factories. ``So you have these people who are like, `Well, we need to move to a service economy.' Really? That's fascinating. Who's going to buy the services?'' he said sarcastically.
Cleary encouraged forum participants to become involved in the campaign, and tell their employees about it.
NAM does not have a political action committee to dole out money to candidates. Instead, the organization uses ``people power,'' setting up plant tours for government leaders and getting its members involved.
``We're not interested in a bailout,'' he said. ``What we want is for the government to stop putting rocks on our backs when we're swimming across a stream.''
A recent NAM study - conducted jointly with the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI trade group - showed that U.S. manufacturers face a 22 percent nonwage disadvantage compared with other countries, from legal and health-care costs and what he called ``the most hostile tax system in the world.''
NAM's top four goals are:
* Winning government changes to get a handle on costs facing business, including health care and legal issues. He said 2 percent of gross domestic product goes down the ``rat hole of legal costs.''
* Getting the government to change the tax system to encourage investment.
* A steady supply of workers.
* A level playing field. The government needs to keep pushing China to let its currency float against the U.S. dollar, he said.
Addressing China, he said U.S. factories can compete - but China has to stop violating the rules covering intellectual property, government subsidies and currency manipulation.
``We fought to get China into the World Trade Organization. And that was a fight; people didn't want them in,'' he said. ``But now China must comply with the body of World Trade Organization laws. They must.''
On the other hand, he said lots of lawmakers win headlines simply by bashing China - while continuing to pass laws that slam domestic manufacturing.
Cleary said NAM leaders like President Bush's manufacturing policy, issued Jan. 16.
``It's a good first step. It's a good start, and they seem to be listening,'' he said. Cleary worked in the Labor Department for the Reagan administration as deputy assistant secretary for policy, and served on the National Mediation Board in the first Bush administration.
He asked forum attendees involved in manufacturing to raise their hands.
``You are the best manufacturers in the world. You know how I can say that? Because you're still in business,'' he said.