In April, I was invited to attend the Metef Exposition in Brescia, Italy, for a week and provide an interview on how the die casting industry is doing in North America. It was quite interesting to see how different the European aluminum industry operates a show versus expositions held in the U.S.
At the beginning of May, I attended the Metalcasters Alliance Government Affairs Conference in Washington, DC. The conference has been held for more than 25 years by NADCA, but the past three conferences have been held jointly with NADCA and AFS.
I had written an article a few months ago about the process of visiting Washington, DC, and making our voices heard to our elected officials. Unfortunately, the turnout for this year’s conference was not what we had hoped for, especially with what is happening with the current administration.
The direction they are driving our economy, manufacturing and society will impact all die cast operations in the U.S., including the owners, employees and suppliers. Not being present at the conference tends to insulate you from hearing directly from the expert speakers who live and work in Washington, DC, about topics and issues that are critical to manufacturing in America. These topics range from OSHA’s new direction to labor/employment issues to what is happening with current proposed greenhouse gas laws.
Let’s start with the administration’s new group of people at OSHA. Our speaker on this topic, Baruch Fellner, has been around DC for more than 30 years and described OSHA as the most zealous and aggressive group he has seen in Washington, DC, in those 30 years. We will need to plan proactive compliance in the workplace since penalties will not be a “minor cost” of doing business with this administration in the future. His advice was to “protect your enforcement flanks” and do not consider your enforcement officer as cooperative or your friend. OSHA will be a major force to deal with in the future. NADCA has informed its members of the targeted areas that OSHA will be looking at, so please get this information and review it with your safety team in your plant. This will be a great “cost avoidance” measure to take.
Another speaker at the conference was Richard McCormack, editor of Manufacturing & Technology News, a newsletter covering globalization and industrial competitiveness. McCormack is now seeing receptive audiences in Congress with respect to pushing back on free trade and moving production overseas: people in the U.S. are now starting to understand the impact of moving work offshore and the implications of such a policy. At this time, Congress is struggling with how to create permanent jobs — they think that passing a bill will create jobs instead of creating the motivation for corporations to invest in America.
According to McCormack, “government is putting America out of business” with its spending policies. We live in a participating democracy that we need to participate in — special interests are in Washington every day pushing their agendas (and money) to the Congress. Many of these interests are opposed to NADCA’s positions on trade, China currency, health care and greenhouse gas, so sitting on the sidelines will not help push our agendas to Congress.
Here are a few startling statistics provided to us at the conference:
- Between 2001 and first quarter of 2009, the U.S. has lost 42,400 factories.
- Manufacturing employment in the U.S. has dropped by 5.5 million jobs, or 32% of the total manufacturing jobs since 2000.
- Manufacturing jobs in the U.S. are now 11.6 million; China has 112 million manufacturing jobs.
- 2009 U.S. auto production: 5.7 million vehicles; 2009 Chinese auto production: 13.8 million.
Okay, a lot of bad news here, but there is a glimmer of hope. We heard from some lawmakers who are committed to getting our economy back on track. Sen. Sherrod Brown from Ohio introduced a bill for re-invigorating U.S. manufacturing called IMPACT (Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology Act of 2009). This Act would provide resources for small- and medium-sized manufacturers to improve manufacturing processes and to retool and expand production of clean energy products.
Although this is another spending bill, at least someone in Congress is taking action about manufacturing in the U.S.
As McCormack said, “we live in a participating democracy.” We need to get our message heard by our Congress that manufacturing is needed in America. Having only 30 people from our industry attend a Conference one time a year will not send that message.
With so much at stake, I challenge each of you to take the time to contact your local, state or federal representative and make the case for policies that will reinvigorate a struggling economy, reduce the cost of doing business in their state, stimulate job growth and make American manufacturers more competitive. We have a great story to tell — die casting and manufacturing still matter to our nation’s economic security.