Americans Send Mixed Signals on Manufacturing Views
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What's wrong with this picture?

According to a new study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, Americans understand and value manufacturing's importance in so many ways, including:

* 78% say it's very important to our economic prosperity;

* 76% say it's very important to our standard of living;

* 60% say it can can effectively compete in global markets; and

* It ranked second only to the energy industry in its importance to a strong national economy, ahead of technology, financial services, healthcare, communications and retail.

Yet, only 30% of respondents would encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career.

I hazard to guess how low the percentage might be if the survey was wood products manufacturing specific instead of open-ended. My gut tells me that our industry still lags metal, plastic and other industries in the general public's perception of being high tech.

But that's an aside to the findings of the authors of the Deloitte/Manufacturing Institute Survey. In their view, the government is the biggest obstacle to manufacturing recruitment.

"For the most part, the public believes we have the 'raw materials' to succeed in manufacturing: Technology, Workforce R&D, Energy, Natural resources. All of these receive high marks. But at the other end of the spectrum, a cluster of disadvantages told another story. Government business policies, corporate and individual income tax rates, federal and state level government leadership and trade policies were viewed as the most significant disadvantages or concerns when it comes to the success of the manufacturing industry in the U.S." 

The study's authors also state that U.S. and state governments have not been proactive in taking measure to help stem the loss of 2 million manufacturing jobs "as a direct result of the recession." They note that other countries are "creating aggressive tax and trade policies and negotiating trade agreements to position themselves to win in the new global economy."

That's true to an extent, but worthy of an asterik. No country has grown its manufacturing base so quickly, including wood products, as China has. But let's not forget that while the Chinese government has provided phenomenal support, including to furniture manufacturing, it has been at the expense of worker rights and the nation's environment.

No doubt we could benefit from help from government, particularly in creating manufacturing investment incentives and reducing costs, especially healthcare. But as an industry, we need to make our own breaks when it comes to boosting public opinion and attracting fresh talent to engage in woodworking as a profession. This includes throwing more support behind initiatives like
WoodLINKS, which seeks to attract youth to our trade, and the new Woodwork Career Alliance, which sets the stage for workers to grow their careers by developing their skills.

We have the market, the resources and the talent.

In other words, we have the way, but do we have the will?

The October 2010 issue of Custom Woodworking Business will feature a special 16-page section explaining the WoodLINKS effort. Ten percent of sales from that supplement will be contributed to on behalf of advertising sponsors. For more information contact publisher Laurel Didier

Read more of Rich Christianson's blogs.

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