Within watching the first 10 minutes of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech last month I found myself in a state of shock and awe.
Not only did Obama say that manufacturing matters, he said revitalizing America’s ability to make things is a cornerstone of his plans for the nation’s economic recovery, jobs creation and future prosperity.
In his words, “Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward and lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last, an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values. This blueprint begins with American manufacturing.”
When is the last time a U.S. president trumpeted the importance of manufacturing to lead the way for “an economy that’s built to last?” I can’t recall. It certainly didn’t happen during the Clinton and Bush administrations when companies were, in quick succession, either closing their U.S. factories to offshore products from China or shutting down because they couldn’t compete with Chinese-made goods. The net result was the loss of more than 2 million manufacturing jobs, more than a fair share of them in the gutted U.S. furniture industry.
So to hear a president say he wants to provide tax breaks to help bring back manufacturing to our shores and help manufacturers obtain financing for new plants, equipment and worker training should be music to the U.S. woodworking industry.
No doubt Bruce Cochrane was pleased with the president’s pledge to support domestic manufacturing. Cochrane, owner of the much ballyhooed recent start-up Lincolnton Furniture Co. of Lincolnton, NC, was invited by Obama to attend the State of the Union address. Lincolnton Furniture recently ramped up production of solid wood furniture with a crew of nearly 50 people, but has ambitions to hire 130 more employees over the next couple of months.
Lincolnton Furniture could be the poster child of Obama’s in-sourcing vision, one that not only helps create jobs and economic growth, but fosters research and development and technological advancement.
After addressing his support of in-sourcing, Obama took several swipes at China, our leading provider of outsourced products, He derided China for pirating movies, music and software and for having an unfair competitive advantage because its manufacturers are “heavily subsidized.”
Obama went on to announce the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit “charged with investigating unfair trading practices in countries like China. There will be more inspections to prevent counterfeit or unsafe goods from crossing our borders. And this Congress should make sure that no foreign company has an advantage over American manufacturing when it comes to accessing financing or new markets like Russia.”
Reality or Campaign Rhetoric?
I fully realize that the State of the Union is as much the grandest forum for campaign rhetoric, especially for a president preparing to run for reelection, as it is for committing to a course of action.
But whether you agree with the president’s policies or not — and I have problems with many of them — you have to at least credit him for setting the stage for making the restoration of American manufacturing a key campaign issue and raising public awareness of its importance.
I sincerely hope that whoever comes out on top of the Republican presidential race is prepared to make manufacturing an important campaign theme as well.
Obama has thrown down the gauntlet; manufacturing matters. I for one can only hope that the president is steadfast to his manufacturing pledge and follows up his words with actions that can make this blueprint a reality.
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