(June 28, 2004) — Processors finally have a seat at the table. Now let's hope it's not too late to contribute some meaningful ideas.
We're talking about the good news that came June 15, when President George W. Bush named two injection molding company executives to his new Manufacturing Council.
The lucky duo: Fred Keller, chairman and chief executive officer of Cascade Engineering Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Scott Thiss, chairman and CEO of S&W Plastics LLC in Eden Prairie, Minn. They were named to an 11-member council that Bush and Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans have charged with shaping a government strategy to help U.S. manufacturers.
Congratulations to the Bush administration for picking some fine leaders. These aren't executives who just keep their heads down and concentrate on the bottom line. They're also making an effort to improve their communities. Keller has won national recognition for Cascade's employee and community service programs, while Thiss has used business outreach programs to emphasize his concern about job creation.
The fact that plastics processors are represented on this panel is a real plus. Outside of the plastics industry, most of the public doesn't automatically think of plastic processing when they think about manufacturing. They think about steel mills and auto assembly lines, not thermoforming and blow molding. In the eyes of the public, manufacturing is big business with fat-cat owners — not a typical plastics processor, where the owner of a 100-employee shop still knows how to trouble-shoot a mold.
Plastics have been a mainstream part of the manufacturing universe for 75 years, and today the industry has plenty of talented leaders, like Keller and Thiss, who should have a voice in Washington. But for most of the past four years, since the economy started to slide in mid-2000, that voice has been too quiet.
In recent months we have been critical of Bush's sluggishness in helping U.S. manufacturers. But the fact is, even if it is terribly late, the administration now has a policy to help manufacturers, and it's seeking input from key industry leaders.
Like others on the panel, Keller believes the group faces a big task.
“Everybody would like to have a silver bullet appear somewhere, but there is no short-term fix,” he said in an interview with Plastics News. “We have to be long-term with our thinking about how to fix these problems. We want to be a thoughtful, long-term group that will hopefully bring about some long-term change to keep America growing in the manufacturing sector.”
We hope Bush didn't name this panel just so the administration can say it's working on the problem, or so the members can be passive cheerleaders for the Bush plan. That happens a lot in the political world: Name a blue-ribbon commission to deal with an issue, then let the findings gather dust.
If the U.S. economy continues to recover this summer — which appears likely, barring a spike in energy prices or a nasty terrorist attack on our soil — this debate probably will disappear from the front pages of American newspapers. While we're certainly rooting for the recovery, it's still essential that manufacturers find a way to keep this issue on the front burner.