Midwestern Legislators

By November 4, 2006Report from America

Report from AmericaIt was a real pleasure to be invited to speak to the Council of State Governments, 61st Annual Meeting of their Midwestern Legislative Conference in Chicago.

The organizers of this year’s Annual Meeting, which they say was the best attended in their history, had the foresight to include a special discussion on manufacturing. I was one of the speakers, as well as Bill Strauss from the Chicago Federal Reserve and Ron Bullock, Chairman and CEO of Bison Gear & Engineering, an innovative manufacturer outside Chicago.

When I sat down at the panel table, I looked out over the audience and thought, “uh, oh, these legislators don’t care a hoot about manufacturing,” because there were a lot of empty seats. But within a few minutes, a veritable gusher of attendees came in, eventually packing the room to standing-room-only. The interest in the future of Midwest manufacturing was strong and deep and cut across party lines. It was clear that some of our messages about the importance of manufacturing to the economy, the high-paying jobs and innovation in manufacturing had gotten through to these legislators.

A few years ago, when manufacturing was shedding jobs every month, the National Governors Association (NGA) held a special meeting during their winter session that focused on the future of manufacturing. Then-NAM chairman Dick Dauch (Cofounder, Chairman and CEO of American Axle in Detroit) spoke effectively and forcefully for manufacturers. These are important opportunities to reach the decision-makers who affect–for better or worse–the ability of manufacturers to compete in America. While we commend NGA and CSG for these opportunities, we’d sure like to see more of a regular dialog given the role manufacturers play in generating state revenues and jobs. Cutting costs that bedevil manufacturers is also a responsibility at the statehouse level and our recent report, The Escalating Cost Crisis, is as much directed to state government officials as it is to Federal policy makers. That’s something for all legislators to think seriously about after Election Day, November 7.

If you would like to tap into the manufacturing program at the CSG meeting, click on this link for my Power Point presentation and click here for the Federal Reserve presentation. Ron Bullock addressed the skills shortage in manufacturing; download file here for his excellent overview