Opinion: Manufacturing needs a rebrand

Jay Timmons and Jeffrey S. Edwards

According to recent research by the National Association of Manufacturers, one of America’s oldest and most important industries — manufacturing, the lifeblood of Detroit — is in need of a rebrand. Parents do not see upward mobility and a bright future in manufacturing for their children. Part of the answer to changing these attitudes is taking a closer look at the present state of modern manufacturing, including how Detroit is leading the way in transforming our industry.

Since 2010, the industrial workforce here has expanded more than 30 percent. There are now roughly 240,000 manufacturing jobs in the greater Detroit area. Fueled by this growth, communities are rebuilding, and Detroit is setting the example for a more sustainable and promising urban future and is leading the world in innovation.

Riding eight years of growth, the automotive sector has enjoyed three consecutive years of record sales with more growth forecast. Automakers are investing in America.

But the area has also diversified, looking to technology and innovation to upscale jobs and “future-proof” careers. From industrial robots, virtual reality and nanotechnology materials to handcrafted bicycles and precision watches, Detroit is finding new ways to make both cutting-edge and traditional products — and creating good-paying jobs and meaningful careers at the same time.

And just outside of Detroit in Livonia, Cooper Standard is investing $7.8 million in a new Innovation Center, which is scheduled to open mid-June of 2017. The center will consolidate approximately 100 Cooper Standard employees from across the company’s southeast Michigan facilities to enable its dedicated team to collaborate and innovate under one roof.

Nationwide, the manufacturing story mirrors Michigan’s. Today, the manufacturing sector supports more than 18 million American jobs. For every $1 invested in manufacturing, another $1.81 is added to the economy. Manufacturers are also making great strides in energy efficiency, while the industrial internet of things and just-in-time manufacturing are revolutionizing production.

Manufacturers are proud of our progress, but the rest of the answer to reshaping the manufacturing narrative requires more work. There is only so much companies and communities themselves can do if the business environment isn’t right.

President Donald Trump made manufacturing a central issue in his campaign, and in his weeks in the Oval Office, it has been a top priority. And it’s easy to understand why: America needs manufacturing to innovate and help provide full employment to our people. The president clearly places a high value on the automotive industry and its workforce.

Regulatory streamlining has already begun. Trump ordered that for every new agency rule, two would be eliminated. That’s a good start, but we need systemic reform. Today, manufacturers face more than 297,600 restrictions on their operations from federal regulations, according to a recent NAM study. And companies with fewer than 50 employees face regulatory compliance costs totaling nearly $35,000 per employee per year. That doesn’t make it easy to grow.

Comprehensive tax reform is getting attention as well, but Americans deserve action. Sensible changes to America’s outdated tax code would help us better compete with other countries and could boost gross domestic product by more than $12 trillion and add more than 6.5 million jobs over 10 years.

There is also the promise of infrastructure improvements. The political will must follow. Without immediate action, the United States will lose more than 2.5 million jobs by 2025. Every year, families waste $3,400 because of deficient infrastructure, and by 2026, that cost will rise to a staggering $5,100.

On the other hand, investment in infrastructure could be a boon for the Wolverine State. Michigan is only 500 miles from half of the U.S. population, while the Great Lakes provide an outlet to the world. Highway projects and other transportation upgrades will facilitate the flow of local, Michigan-made products to customers across America and around the globe.

Too many more have been left wondering if there is a place for them in the modern economy. Manufacturers are in the business of returning hope to families and communities — in Detroit and across the nation.

Jay Timmons is president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, the largest manufacturing trade association in the U.S.. Jeffrey S. Edwards is chairman and CEO of Cooper Standard and a member of the NAM Executive Committee.