National Association of Manufacturers sponsors forum on sector's future for Republican presidential candidates

November 2, 2011

On the evening of November 1, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) hosted a forum focused on the future of U.S. manufacturing for some of the Republican party's 2012 presidential candidates in Pella, Iowa. Attendees of the event who represented various manufacturing companies and fiscal policy organizations had mixed responses to some of the candidates' proposals.

According to the Des Moines Register, the reactions of those in the sector, due to their divergences, may indicate that manufacturing is a U.S. issue that has little to do, in the long run, with partisan politics of any kind. For example, Roger Klouda, president of the Cedar Rapids-based manufacturing company MSI Mold Builders, stated that any candidate's words, regardless of political affiliation, are often pitched to echo voters' desires.

The candidates at the forum all expressed the opinion that corporate taxes should be lowered. Economists responded that this measure could work if it had no effect on the deficit, but that such a result was not likely unless Congress made it revenue-neutral. The only united responses to any of the candidates' statements were affirmations of the potential benefits of increasing domestic energy supplies and keeping government regulations on business as they are, without addition.

However, the immediacy of the manufacturing sector's status as a major U.S. issue may dictate that progress in the industry cannot wait for any political changes. The most recent Institute for Supply Management (ISM) numbers place the manufacturing Purchasing Manager's Index (PMI) for October at 50.8, a drop of 0.8 from September's 51.6 total, in contrast to a belief espoused by some that the sector was moving toward a recovery.

Businesses in the sector may be best served by working on their own to initiate any progress they can. It could be beneficial to cut inessential operations where possible and work on strengthening any aspects of production, strategy and R&D that have proven in the past to be successful and continue to remain viable in the present.

As has always been the case, the backbone of any industrial or manufacturing business is its workforce. Those in management and executive-level positions at these companies can succeed by soliciting input from their employees whenever possible on how best to improve processes, innovate new products, enter new markets and expand export sales. Though the events of the GOP candidates' forum on this topic illuminates that certain issues affecting the sector are out of the hands of businesspeople, they do little to alter the fact that the fate of the industry largely rises or falls on the basis of employee and managerial innovation and ingenuity.