Assistant Secretary of Commerce Nicole Y. Lamb-Hale
Manufacturing and Services
Remarks to Society of Manufacturing Engineers Annual Conference
"Bridging the Gaps"
Monday, June 7, 2010
As prepared for delivery
Good evening, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here with you in Nashville. I would like to thank the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and Mark Tomlinson for inviting me here today. I’d also like to express my gratitude to Dr. Barbara Fossum for her kind introduction.
The revitalization of North American manufacturing and your role as manufacturing engineers are at the heart of how we close the gaps that concern us all today, most notably the gap that has developed between the manufacturing base we once knew and where we are now.
I identify personally with the difficulties faced today by manufacturing professionals and your clients. The downturn in both manufacturing and the overall economy has been extremely difficult for many of us. When I practiced law in Detroit, quite a few of my clients were manufacturers, so I am familiar with the challenges many of you have faced since the manufacturing base started eroding three decades ago. And now, we have had to absorb the blows from the 2008 economic recession.
Fortunately, there have been some recent signs of gradual improvements in the economy, employment levels, and a number of manufacturing-specific indicators. The economy is growing at an annualized rate of 3 percent compared to a year ago when we were worried about a depression.
Exports grew 3.2 percent in March to $148 billion and were up 16.7 percent for the first quarter of the year. Exports of manufactured goods were even stronger, up 18.3 percent to $222 billion in the first quarter.
Manufacturing remains a vital part of the U.S. economy, employing 11.6 million American workers in April 2010. This accounts for about 8.9 percent of total nonfarm employment in the United States. Manufacturing industries are also responsible for a significant share of U.S. economic production, generating nearly $1.6 trillion in GDP in 2009.
As the Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Services at the International Trade Administration at the Department of Commerce, I envision our primary functions as three fold—to convene, to collaborate, and to connect. We convene experts both inside and outside of the federal government to develop solutions to the issues faced by U.S. industry. We collaborate with agencies across the federal government and with state and local governments to develop solutions to sustain and increase the global competitiveness of U.S. industry. And our industry expertise and contacts allow us to connect American industry to the resources and tools available in the federal government to forge a path to sustainable, highly-skilled jobs.
Before I speak specifically about the Obama Administration's commitment to manufacturing in America, let me say a few words about President Obama’s National Export Initiative, which all of our work at ITA and in my office supports. The President recognizes the importance of exports, especially the kind of services you provide. The NEI is designed to create long-term, sustainable economic growth, through the doubling of exports during the next five years to support two million new American jobs.
The National Export Initiative will:
- Provide more funding for export promotion and more coordination between government agencies;
- Ensure that we advocate more effectively for U.S. products; and
- Increase the government’s focus on barriers that prevent U.S. companies from free and fair access to foreign markets.
The President backs up his strategy with proposed new funding for 328 new trade experts at ITA to advocate and find customers for U.S. companies. We believe ITA’s Commercial Service will help more than 23,000 companies to begin or grow their export sales in 2011.
To support the NEI, ITA is working to:
- Help increase the number of small- and medium-sized businesses exporting to more than one market by 50 percent over the next five years;
- Increase our presence in emerging high-growth markets like China, India, and Brazil; and
- Develop a comprehensive strategy to identify market opportunities in fast-growing sectors like environmental goods and services, renewable energy, healthcare and biotechnology.
The revitalization of manufacturing is a matter of national urgency. Manufacturing engineers play a critical role in the retooling process. But we have to expand our thinking beyond of what so many of us think about manufacturing, exports, and jobs.
When many Americans think of manufacturing, they still tend to conjure up images of the low-skilled laborer diligently working the assembly line. These images represent the best of America’s work ethic and its character. The same ethos is as alive and well today as ever, and it is taking new forms that all of us should recognize.
Much of our ingenuity and competitiveness now manifests itself at the intersection of the manufacturing and services sectors. The distinction between the two sectors is increasingly blurred. Engineers and other manufacturing professionals occupy the space where the sectors overlap, and so you exist at the core of how we retool and remake American manufacturing. You spearhead product and process design and innovation. These contributions add inestimable value to the economy in today’s ever more sophisticated world.
The most evident example is a touch screen mobile phone. To the unsophisticated observer, the phone is a normal retail product: your neighbors go to the store to purchase it, they carry it home and they use it. Few people beyond audiences like this one know that the vast majority of the economic activity that went into producing the phone— the invention of the software, the circuitry and electronics design, the production methods— was your handiwork: Your intellect. Your hard work. Your dreams and ideas. Many of you work in industries such as medical devices, motorized transportation, and aerospace/defense, where the same dynamic holds true.
Thus the future of America’s manufacturing lies with intelligent products and production methods – it lies with you. Designing our new world is as important as actually building it. You are helping the country move into new and forward-looking sectors, like environmental and renewable energy technologies, and thus you have the potential to remake the economy and create a better future for our children.
For this, our common mission, professional organizations like SME play an active role. And government leaders like me have the responsibility to encourage innovation and business development through outreach, education, and other programs.
I am especially excited that this summer I will kick off an initiative called “Manufacture America” to help manufacturers (especially small- and medium-sized manufacturers) retool for the future. This initiative is intended to help small- and medium-sized business retool and preserve jobs in some of the hardest hit communities in the country. I will personally lead a series of interactive tours followed by a dedicated lasting engagement with the community.
Kick-off events in a number of leading manufacturing cities will connect manufacturers with local, state, and federal programs and services that can help them retool their operations. We will help link manufacturers to global markets that provide export opportunities. I look forward to collaborating with you all on the implementation of these events.
The “Manufacture America” tours build upon the ongoing work done by the Department of Commerce to support U.S. manufacturing. For example, my office organized seven “SMART” TOURS as part of our Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative. The purpose of the SMART tours is to engage small- and medium-sized enterprises and share best practices in environmental and energy efficiency by local manufacturing firms. These SMART Tours recently took us to Seattle, Rochester, Grand Rapids, St. Louis and Atlanta. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and I led the Baltimore SMART tour just last month. And our eighth SMART tour is in the works for September in Richmond, VA.
I am also enthusiastic about the Department of Commerce’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), which assists small and medium-sized manufacturers to improve their competitiveness. MEP focuses on five critical areas:
- continuous improvement;
- technology acceleration;
- supplier development;
- sustainability; and
Collaborating with local partners at centers around the country, MEP offers training and one-on-one sessions in areas such as quality and environmental management systems, cost control, and market diversification.
And finally—on two issues near and dear to the hearts of engineers and manufacturers—the Department of Commerce works diligently on both standards and intellectual property rights (IPR).
Issues involving standards, conformance, and regulation are a point of increased focus for the Obama Administration. These issues affect us domestically and internationally because they impact U.S. companies’ ability to compete on a level playing field.
ITA’s involvement in standards-related areas focuses on working with the private sector, other government agencies, and our trading partners to ensure standards and related measures do not impede U.S. competitiveness and innovation. I am personally involved in the new high-level Subcommittee on Standards recently established by the National Science and Technology Council.
With respect to IPR, combating counterfeiting and protecting intellectual property are major concerns for U.S. manufacturers at home and abroad. As manufacturing becomes more globalized, it is more important than ever to protect our brands and innovations, as well as the safety of consumers.
Secretary Locke has announced as one of his top priorities reform of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in order to make determinations on patent applications faster and of higher quality. In addition, both Secretary Locke and others in the Administration have made the worldwide protection of intellectual property a top line priority. The Department of Commerce has several programs to help intellectual property owners protect their property. (Name them)
Let me conclude by underscoring that manufacturing engineers are a key part of our future. But the future will not come to us; together we must go to meet it. As evidenced by tonight’s awards, you have the talent and determination to innovate and grow so that our country can remain globally competitive. I look forward to working with you all as we progress toward that future.
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