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Chairman’s Corner - DEC 2011

Grady Cope, NTMA Chairman of the Board

I want to wish everyone a Happy Holiday Season and a prosperous New Year!  This year has been an incredible experience for me visiting with many of you and seeing your businesses in operation.  I want to thank everyone for their hospitality and generosity in hosting me at your Chapters. I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to serve as your Chairman this year.

As we look into the next year, it is important to remember that many of the issues facing us will continue for sometime.  This includes raising awareness of the importance of manufacturing in our society, thereby enabling us to attract skilled labor.  In addition, we must continue to make sure our customers value us as trusted partners and not a commodity that grows on a tree or can be pumped from the ground.

Yes, we have begun making progress.  Politicians are starting to talk about U.S. manufacturing as something important, although I’m not convinced they understand that U.S. manufacturing can fix most of their problems.  For example, we can add jobs tomorrow; we pay taxes and lots of them.  The more U.S. manufacturing prospers, the more our nation will prosper.  The data exists and is right there in front of them, all they have to do is read it.  One problem is that our nation’s leaders don’t have technical or science backgrounds; for that matter, neither does our nation.  This is a big problem and one that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

As I write this, the Super Committee is about seven days from reaching an agreement or not.  My guess is they lack the leadership and intestinal fortitude to make the hard decisions required to start solving our nation’s problems.  The chances of them making “real” cuts in the budget and understanding the consequences of not doing so remains to be seen.  Of course, the other item is raising taxes, which many business owners would agree to if they truly believed the deficit would be reduced.  If the Super Committee could just look at the big picture and imagine a society with people working in highly skilled jobs inventing, engineering and producing actual products, the money problems of the nation would go away.  We would return to a nation of wealth instead of a debtor nation.  Again I ask the question, which nations operate from a position of wealth today?  Where are they located and what do they do to produce that wealth?  We all know the answers – Asia and they manufacture!

As most of you know, I’m an engineer and a geek at heart.  For years I have loved Apple and their products.  I even compared them to Goldman Sachs in my speech.  However, I have always struggled with all of their manufacturing being done offshore. I always explained it away by saying that the electronics technology has left us and we don’t have the technical skills to do it here anymore.  Well, I was partially correct. I recently finished the Steve Jobs biography written by Walter Isaacson and learned that Steve Jobs and other Silicone Valley CEO’s had a dinner with President Obama to discuss the economy and the role business can play.  During dinner Jobs became frustrated and said, “… politics can lead to paralysis.”  He indicated that all the President could do was give them “… reasons why things can’t get done.” Sound familiar?

The next paragraph in the book really hits it out of the ball park.

“Jobs went on to urge that a way be found to train American engineers.  Apple had 700,000 factory workers employed in China, he said, and that was because it needs 30,000 engineers onsite to support those workers.  ‘You can’t find that many in America to hire,’ he said.  These factory engineers did not have to be PhDs or geniuses; they simply needed to have basic engineering skills for manufacturing.  Tech schools, community colleges, or trade schools could train them.  ‘If you could educate these engineers,’ he said, ‘we could move more manufacturing plants here.’”

That sounds like what we have been saying.  We have to keep the grassroots effort up.  The message is out there and it is gaining traction.  Keep up your efforts to educate the public and our elected leaders.  This is especially true in the upcoming election year.  The renaissance of manufacturing in America has begun and it’s up to us to keep it on the front page.  Change takes time, leadership, and intestinal fortitude.  As business leaders we can do that!

Happy Holidays,

Grady Cope
Chairman

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