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Mixed Messages for Manufacturing

January 3, 2013

Looking back on the campaign, it was refreshing to hear candidates from both parties tout the importance of U.S. manufacturing. We hope all the talk carries through to meaningful public policy. Much will depend on continued public pressure on our politicians—and therein lies the rub. Americans have decidedly mixed feelings about manufacturing and the ability of our leaders to fix the problems it faces.

According to the fourth annual “Public Viewpoint on Manufacturing” survey by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, 90 percent of Americans rate manufacturing as “important” or “very important” for their economic prosperity. At the same time, however, the public feels that American leadership is off-course in improving manufacturing competitiveness.

The survey, which was conducted last September, found that Americans have a jaundiced view of the nation’s overall economic health, with 59 percent indicating that the economy has “not improved or gotten better” in recent years. Specific to the manufacturing sector, only 16 percent of Americans feel it is likely to improve in the next 12 months. In contrast, 23 percent feel it will weaken.

More importantly, Americans want their elected leaders to do something about it. Eighty-four percent “strongly agree” or “agree” that the United States needs a more strategic approach to developing its manufacturing base, and 82 percent support further investment in American manufacturing.

“Despite the public’s overwhelming desire for American policymakers and business leaders to double-down on manufacturing, it is crystal clear that they believe we are not seeing enough action,” says Craig Giffi, vice chairman of Deloitte.

Only 35 percent of respondents believe that federal and state leadership are helping create a competitive advantage for the United States vs. other countries.
Moreover, only 49 percent of Americans “strongly agree” or “agree” that their local schools can provide students with the skills required to pursue jobs in manufacturing.

In line with that perception, only 35 percent of Americans would encourage their children to pursue careers in manufacturing, even though advanced skills are required to work in today’s highly technical and advanced manufacturing facilities.

Despite the gloom, Americans have faith in the nation’s expertise and resources to bolster manufacturing. For example, 78 percent of respondents cite America’s technological prowess as one of the key contributors to maintaining our competitive advantage.

When asked what type of facility they would establish if given an opportunity to create 1,000 new jobs in their community, Americans placed manufacturing at the top of the list—ahead of all other industries including energy, technology, healthcare and communications.

We hope our leaders are listening. We urge them to put aside partisan politics and follow through on their rhetoric. To download a copy of the survey, visit www.deloitte.com/us/publicperception.
 

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