The federal government should step up support for research and development efforts as a way to strengthen U.S. competitiveness, a government-appointed council of manufacturers is recommending.
The National Manufacturing Council, an advisory group of executives and government officials appointed by President Bush as an outgrowth of the administration's 2004 manufacturing initiative, is recommending government take steps like extending R&D tax credits, streamlining the patent process and using technology to drive down health-care costs.
The May 11 recommendations also seem to take issue with other administration decisions. The council wants more government funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a network of centers designed to help small business, but the Bush administration's budget this year seeks to cut MEP funding by almost 60 percent.
The R&D recommendations prompted a congressman at the hearing in Washington, Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Ill., to caution that getting more government money for research will be tough.
``Don't come to Washington asking for more money, it's not here guys,'' said Manzullo, who heads the House Small Business Committee. Half jokingly, he told the group that ``I get as much as I can and shove it to my district.''
Manzullo also said he wanted to be ``brutally honest with multinational companies,'' that he criticized for moving research and development overseas and then complaining the U.S. government is not doing enough to encourage students to go into engineering.
The council's report said U.S. government investment in R&D has dropped from 1.92 percent of gross domestic product in 1964, to 0.78 percent in 2003, but it noted, conversely, that private industry boosted its research spending from 0.6 percent of GDP in 1964 to 1.5 percent in 2003.
The report said the United States is in jeopardy of trailing other nations in innovation and technical capability of its workforce, and council members said that most U.S. R&D spending is focused on military and medical work, instead of basic research.
``We're living off the investments we made 40 years ago,'' said Don Wainwright, head of the council and chairman and chief executive officer of metal stamping firm Wainwright Industries Inc. in St. Peters, Mo.
A representative of the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington told the group it was on target in focusing on research and development.
Frank Vargo, vice president of international economic affairs, said tight U.S. visa rules are hurting the country's competitiveness, engineering is still seen as a hostile profession for women, and governments like Canada, France and Japan are taking a more active role in promoting engineering.
The council plans to look at other areas, including trade and a review of government worker-training efforts.
The latter effort, led by council member Fred Keller, chairman and CEO of injection molder Cascade Engineering Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich., aims to develop a comprehensive plan for manufacturing training.