White Paper Spurred National Effort

    GRAND RAPIDS — Global competition and a faltering manufacturing economy may have seemed like new news to the masses, but not to The Right Place Inc.

    The West Michigan economic development agency saw those issues beginning to emerge before 2000. It responded last year with a position paper for local manufacturers that wanted to stay here and stay competitive.

    While many companies were looking to the Asian Pacific market to lower costs and increase productivity, The Right Place’s Manufacturers Council issued a white paper stating the importance of manufacturing to this region’s economy and how to strengthen its manufacturing sector.

    The result spurred the recommendation to create the position of a national secretary or undersecretary of manufacturing and put forth several other ideas that prompted national discussion.

    It is because of this effort that The Right Place was one of the finalists for the Business Journal’s Newsmaker of the Year Award that, on Monday, went to DeVos Place.

    “The Manufacturers Council could hear the transformational shift and could see that companies in the area are being forced to become globally competitive,” said Michelle Cleveland, vice president of The Right Place.

    “The council thought this was a good opportunity to become involved with because this is larger than a specific firm or sector.

    “We have watched the global markets grow and know this is a great opportunity to attract companies.”

    The Manufacturers Council commissioned IRN Inc. to create the comprehensive position paper.

    The paper, released this past March, is entitled “A Growth and Innovation Agenda for Manufacturing.”

    It details the status of U.S. manufacturing, the challenges facing manufacturers, and some innovative strategies to improve the health of the domestic manufacturing sector.

    “This report comes out of a realization that it will take more than operational excellence to compete,” said Nancy Ayres, Manufacturers Council chairwoman and general manager of Clipper Belt Lacer Co.

    “It has become clear that innovation is the only way to reach the next level of global competitiveness.”

    Some of the report’s recommendations were to increase the visibility, priority and investment in the manufacturing sector within the federal government and included the recommendation of the appointment of a secretary or undersecretary of manufacturing.

    The report also sought to expand research consortia and to boost interest and participation in science and engineering education, particularly at the K-12 level.

    Other recommendations were to increase economic development support and strengthen regional clusters of innovation.

    The position paper reiterated the economic impact of manufacturing on the federal and state levels, noting that the manufacturing sector and the non-manufacturing industries that are directly linked to manufacturing account for 45 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product and 41 percent of national employment.

    Manufacturing is the largest employment sector in Michigan, accounting for 25 percent of all payrolls in the state.

    Manufacturing also has a high economic multiplier effect. Each manufacturing job generates three to four jobs in other sectors.

    The report stressed that the automotive industry multiplier is even higher: 7.6 jobs.

    “This innovation agenda established by this position paper is an essential guide as we continue to advocate for and support our manufacturing community,” Cleveland said in March.

    “But this is a national economic issue that requires national attention,” she added.

    “We cannot affect real change without working as a region, as a state and as a country in the creation and implementation of a manufacturing agenda. We will be working with our Manufacturers Council, regional partners, educators, lawmakers and national associations to act on the recommendations called for in this paper through policy creation, systems development, and on-going support.”

    Since the creation of the paper, Cleveland said that actions have been taken and progress has been made to bring national attention to the issues of manufacturing.

    She noted that the Manufacturers Council has been a very active voice in Washington and Lansing, including being part of a roundtable discussion that was attended by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and which also offered the opportunity to examine and assess the governor’s manufacturing agenda.

    Granholm has pledged to take that input to a national meeting of governors with similar manufacturing markets to discuss common elements and share ideas from each roundtable discussion and agenda assessment.

    Congressman Vern Ehlers also proposed a bill that included several elements from the position paper.

    The Manufacturing Technology Competitiveness Act of 2003, HR 3598, seeks to stimulate innovation through collaborative research and development and broaden and strengthen the Manufacturing Extension Program, which provides small and medium-size manufacturers with the tools to better compete.

    Like Ehlers, Congressman Peter Hoekstra supported the measure and the creation of an office at the undersecretary level in the U.S. Department of Commerce.

    “He will be the only bureaucrat in Washington,” Hoekstra said, “ whose first thought when he gets to the office in the morning will be what he can do to help strengthen American manufacturing.”         

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