Thursday, February 9, 2012

National Manufacturing Summit – A Tremendous Community Success!

Thanks to great reporting by our local media partners, most of you already know that the recently held National Manufacturing Summit was a tremendous success for our community. But given the significance of our community pulling off such an extraordinary event in the national spotlight, I feel it important to capture a few of the key takeaways and significant next steps coming out of the event.

Before I get to the main topic of the column, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge and thank those that made the Summit’s success possible. The summit was the original idea of Mayor David Pennington. Mayor Pennington is passionate about what we must change in America to once again be the world power we once were. And making things in America is the cornerstone of that needed debate. We cannot build economic success on a service economy. Fortunately Mayor Pennington enlisted another passionate leader who is just as focused on returning America back into a manufacturing powerhouse – Congressman Tom Graves. These two were ultimately the energy and impetus for all that enabled the summit to exceed almost everyone’s imagination.

Having been a small part of the planning and execution of the summit and by participating in the entire event, it was evident to me that we were able to accomplish most of the desired objectives. Our objectives included: to raise awareness of our community and our region as being a major manufacturing hub, to raise the awareness that manufacturing is important to America and that manufacturing needs to grow in America, and that key issues and opportunities be introduced that are critical for manufacturing to be successful going forward.

Not only to I think we accomplished our desired objectives, the key takeaways were consistent with the desired objectives and we identified appropriate next steps. The summit focused on three key areas that manufacturing success (or failure) is built on: energy / energy policy, education / workforce development, and bureaucracy and regulatory constraints.

In the few days since the summit, I have heard little negative. But a few comments have indicated that the discussion of energy may have been a little too much of the program. I would simply respond that the leaders I talk to continually express that energy policy is critical to the success of American manufacturing. The summit appropriately pointed out that we lack a National Energy Policy for our country. Regardless of our individual political ideologies, I think most would agree that the lack of a plan is foolish and dangerous. I am confident Congressman Graves will take the message back to the capitol that we have to have a plan for our country regarding energy.

In the area of education, I also feel the summit created an appropriate focus on the state of the American education system. In the case of education, we are simply not preparing our children for success in college or the workplace. Locally we invest over $115,000 over the course of a k-12 education. And yet recent data indicates that twice the number of local graduates (vs. the state average) entering college require remedial course work. And from the summit, leader after leader gave testimony that those entering the workforce are not qualified in many basic functions and lack severely the “soft skills” to be successful in the work place. Education and workforce development must become a national imperative.

And finally in the area of government regulations and layers of bureaucracy, we simply have too much of both. There is a need for appropriate regulations and certain government agencies to oversee that the honest are kept honest and the dishonest prosecuted. But government left unchecked grows like kudzu. Our elected officials must be informed when certain government rules and regulations are counterproductive and adjustments must be implemented. A prime example is the recent NLRB ruling that Boeing cannot build a plant in South Carolina. When a successful company with a legacy like Boeing can be told where it can operate (or where it cannot), we are miles down a slippery slope.

America is still a great country. We can still make things in America – maybe not $2 t-shirts, but innovative flooring solutions, aircraft, automobiles, etc. But to compete, we have to know what our blind spots are and work tirelessly to improve them. Through collaborative partnerships, success is possible.

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