Manufacturers Speak Up

By April 20, 2006Economy

In previous blogs we’ve reported on some of the business observations of small and medium manufacturers, in their own words. In Monday’s Wall Street Journal, a senior executive at one of America’s pre-eminent large manufacturers speak about the company’s experiences in a rapidly globalizing world. It’s worth your time to take a look at this excellent op-ed by Jim Owens, chief executive officer at Caterpillar. The op-ed itself is based on a speech that Mr. Owens gave at NAM’s National Manufacturing Week back in March. Of course we blogged on it then, too.

In his April 17th op-ed, entitled Embrace Globalism, Mr. Owens notes that “this is a critical moment for U.S. manufacturing” that is “fraught with risk and controversy–but also rich with possibility.” The Cat CEO says that the company is in the midst of one of the most successful periods in the company’s long history, with record sales and profits, a growing workforce and rising stock valuation. The world’s largest manufacturer of earth moving equipment is doing well, Mr Owens points out, because management embraced globallsm’s opportunities.

Mr. Owen’s main message is that policy makers can pull the rug out from under successful manufacturers like Caterpillar if they turn to protectionism. Cat’s way has been successful because the company:

1. focuses on using the latest technology to ensure quality products
2. applies lean manufacturing to reduce costs and continually raise productivity
3. invests in its workforce
4. believes in its ability to compete and translates that challenge into a plus.

Mr. Owen’s thoughts are definitely worth reading for anyone seriously interested in the future of U.S. manufacturing, especially public officials and reporters who may think there are easy answers to competing in the global marketplace. The article in today’s paper is not his full National Manufacturing Week speech. In fact, in a letter to the editor in today’s Wall Street Journal, Mr. Owens criticizes the WSJ for only excerpting from his speech and not including all of his thoughts and recommendations.