Woody Sutton knows what he has to do to help U.S. manufacturers prosper and stay competitive as globalization evolves.
``We have to help develop and maintain an environment in the U.S. where an industry's smart business decision is to open or expand an operation here,'' said Sutton, assistant secretary for manufacturing and services at the Department of Commerce.
``We have to attack the cost of doing business in the U.S,'' he said in an early-September interview at his Washington office. ``In order to be able to compete globally, we have to be able to compete domestically. And we have to make sure we have equal access to [other countries'] markets.''
Sutton also said he wants to ensure that the U.S. market-driven economy, ``with its sense of transparency, fair play and respect for intellectual property,'' becomes the future of globalization.
``We should export our way of doing business as much as anything else. Our way of doing business should be our No. 1 export. I think that is one of the best ways for us to stay competitive in a global economy,'' he said.
Sutton was confirmed by the Senate in mid-August, ending a 6½-month period where the position was unfilled. The newest - and only the second - manufacturing czar since the Bush administration created the position in 2004, Sutton did not outline forthcoming initiatives.
``I'm still figuring out who all the staff folks are and where they fit into the organization,'' he said with a laugh.
Sutton is a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral and past president of the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute.
He said he and his staff, which includes more than 130 industry experts and analysts, will be ``industry's advocate'' with the government.
``We want to be the go-to office, as globalization evolves, that keeps U.S. companies competitive,'' Sutton said. ``We want to make sure that any rule or regulation that is being developed is viewed from how it will affect U.S. workers and U.S. competitiveness.
``Our overarching goal is to make the business conditions such so that companies can get a good return on investment in the U.S.,'' he said.
While other governmental departments are developing policies, Sutton said his job is to be a key player in bringing industry's views to the table.
The first manufacturing czar, Al Frink Jr., created an Office of Industry Analysis to promote domestic competitiveness, and a Manufacturing Advisory Council, comprising 15 private-sector executives that reflect a cross-section of manufacturing.
Frink was a co-founder of Santa Ana, Calif.-based carpet and rug manufacturer Fabrica International Inc., which is now part of Dixie Group Inc. He implemented close to two-thirds of the 57 recommendations in the 2004 ``Manufacturing in America'' report, which was developed at 20 industry-specific roundtables.
But Frink was viewed by many as having little influence or direct contact with the White House during his 2½ years in the job.
While head of ARI, Sutton visited 80 plants ranging from what he called ``small mom-and-pop operations to global operations that were very efficient in their processes.'' He said the issues facing air conditioning and refrigeration are a ``microcosm of what is happening to U.S. industry at large.''
``The key issues are the cost of doing business in the United States, access to other markets and intellectual property issues,'' Sutton said. ``I saw one common thread when I visited all those plants: U.S manufacturers can compete successfully with anybody, given a level playing field.''
Exports of manufactured goods accounted for 7.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2006, according to Commerce Department data. The U.S. is the largest exporter of good and services, based on World Trade Organization data for 2006.
Sutton said one of the challenges he and his staff face will be to ``avoid a one-size-fits-all'' approach to solutions.
``Each industry has a different and sometimes overlapping set of issues,'' said Sutton.
``We must be able to delineate each issue with each industry and ... provide every piece of information to decision-makers to avoid unintended consequences.''