State can regain lead in manufacturing
Op-ed for Crain's Detroit Business, December 11, 2011
In a few shorts weeks, after the holiday glitter fades away, another shiny package awaits Michiganders: the North American International Auto Show.
It is here that consumers, analysts and critics first see the new cars, trucks and SUVs for 2012, along with futuristic concept vehicles.
It is a showcase not only for Detroit's car companies, but the hundreds of suppliers throughout our region.
These vehicles are the fruits of our factories and laboratories, and this annual extravaganza should give us pause about the state of American manufacturing and technology.
More than ever, it is time to reassert our leadership as the world's greatest manufacturer of goods, products and, particularly important, innovations in both the automotive industry and beyond.
Earlier this summer, President Barack Obama unveiled the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, an important step in accelerating advanced manufacturing in America. It aims to retain and create well-paying manufacturing jobs -- jobs that use science and technology to increase productivity in both traditional and emerging industries.
The president rightly calls this "an all-hands-on-deck effort" from research universities, leading manufacturers and the government agencies charged with supporting science and technology. It is a $500 million investment in our economic prosperity as a nation.
Advanced manufacturing matters more to Michigan than to any other state. More than 10 percent of the state's workforce is in advanced manufacturing. A greater share of employees work in advanced manufacturing in our state than in the Midwest or United States as a whole.
It is an equally powerful, and critical, force in the national economy. In fact, manufacturing is the bedrock, performing more R&D, driving more innovation, and exporting as much or contributing more to our nation's economy than any other sector.
Yet for all its muscle, manufacturing is in trouble. As a nation, we are losing manufacturing jobs and the talented people who fill them; Michigan has been ground zero. But we also are better positioned than any other state to be the epicenter of manufacturing innovation and resurgence.
Michigan has long been home to giants of innovation -- names that embody the power of transformative ideas and manufacturing processes: Ford, Dodge, Kellogg, Gerber, Upjohn and Dow. Thomas Edison himself developed a love of tinkering while growing up in Michigan.
There is no one solution to revitalizing an industry as historic and diverse as American manufacturing. The president's initiative calls on leaders from industry, academia and government. We have the tools to create and test new materials and technologies, educate the next leaders in engineering and technology, and develop policies favorable to both large and small manufacturers.
The Midwest is a bellwether for the nation's economic health, and the state of Michigan has unique opportunities to retool itself to help drive a knowledge-based economy. We must now capitalize on two strengths: manufacturing heritage and our unlimited capacity of talent and innovation.
As a state and a nation, we will still make cars, and innovative ones at that. But we also will stamp our mark on newly developed materials, nanotechnologies, next-generation robotics, electronics, energy-efficient processes, and more. We are ready to retool.
Andrew Liveris is chairman and CEO of The Dow Chemical Co., and President Obama's appointee to co-chair the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. Mary Sue Coleman is president of the University of Michigan, one of six universities participating in the partnership. UM will host a regional meeting of AMP on Dec. 12.