On September 20th I attended a meeting at the U.S. Senate Building to discuss two reports that offer a path forward to increase the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing. I was struck not by the number of recommendations between the two reports but the similarities between both.
The first, Report to the President on Capturing Domestic Competitive Advantage in Advanced Manufacturing was delivered to President Obama in July 2012 by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The second, Fifty Ways to Leave Your Competitiveness Woes Behind: A National Traded Sector Competiveness Strategy by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, continues the work that authors Rob Atkinson and Stephen Ezell have been doing to advocate for a national manufacturing strategy.
It strikes me that we are at a tipping point of individuals, organizations, reports and studies, and strategic recommendations that make sense. Consider that ITIF sponsored A Charter for Revitalizing American Manufacturing that was signed by 19 people across 17 different organizations, all advocating for similar “big issue” solutions to increased manufacturing competitiveness.
A saying that a mentor once told me about policy – “it’s not rocket science but it’s really hard, dirty work” – applies here. Most people that are open to the idea of a national manufacturing strategy know the elements that are needed, but getting them done is really hard, for many and varied reasons.
What do both of these documents, plus the Charter from earlier this year, share in common as “big picture” things that must get done? In the case of ITIF, it includes a focus on technology, taxes, talent, trade (promotion, enforcement, and market opening) as well as finance, regulatory, and competiveness assessments. Similarly, the PCAST report focuses on enabling innovation, securing the talent pipeline, and improving the business climate. Meanwhile, the previously released Charter document included recommendations in the broad areas of support for SME manufacturing and entrepreneurship, finance and credit provision, trade strategy, tax policy, and talent policy.
The overlap amongst these reports is not hard to see. But there are many ways in which we could get started. In the case of the “Fifty Ways” report from ITIF, the document indicates areas that are “Just Do It” recommendations that are revenue-neutral, policy-oriented solutions. There are 19 such “Just Do It” recommendations in the “Fifty Ways” report, or roughly a third. Others require funding, or changes to the tax code, or Congressional or White House action.
I for one feel really good that so much attention is being paid to the importance of manufacturing strategies to increase U.S. competitiveness. Clearly we are at a tipping point in the identification and understanding of the major elements of what a national strategy might look and feel like. The PCAST report provides a path forward, and other reports like “Fifty Ways” and the “Charter” help color in the lines. We are getting there, one “Just Do It” and one “wow, this is really hard work” at a time