How Trump's Manufacturing Jobs Council Fell Apart

The President's efforts to promote job growth in the US manufacturing sector are being undermined by his controversial political stances and statements.

President Donald Trump has decided to disband the council of his Manufacturing Jobs Initiative. The announcement came Wednesday morning, amidst a large exodus of the council's membership in response to the President's comments regarding a recent white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, VA. By Tweet, the president said:

As of Wednesday, several members of President Trump's Manufacturing Jobs Initiative had departed including: Kenneth Frazier, CEO of pharmaceutical company Merck; Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank; Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing; Richard Trumka, of the AFL-CIO, along with Thea Lee, the AFL-CIO's deputy chief of staff; 3M CEO Inge Thulin; and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich.

In a blog post, Intel's Krzanich explained his departure, saying:

“ I resigned to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues, including the serious need to address the decline of American manufacturing. Politics and political agendas have sidelined the important mission of rebuilding America’s manufacturing base. ... I am not a politician. I am an engineer who has spent most of his career working in factories that manufacture the world’s most advanced devices. Yet, it is clear even to me that nearly every issue is now politicized to the point where significant progress is impossible. Promoting American manufacturing should not be a political issue.”

Under Armour's Plank, echoed Krzanich's sentiment, expressing a desire to focus on technological innovation over political entanglements. In a statement released by Under Amour, Plank said, “We remain resolute in our potential and ability to improve American manufacturing. However, Under Armour engages in innovation and sports, not politics ...” In the past year Under Armour has gained attention for applying 3D printing techniques to shoe design and manufacturing.

Paul, of the Alliance of American Manufacturing, tweeted about his departure, saying, “... it's the right thing to do.”

President Trump's Manufacturing Jobs Initiative, first announced back in January, was supposed to be a think tank, bringing together the most prominent business leaders in American manufacturing to tackle the problem of creating job growth in the manufacturing sector. At its inception the council boasted CEOs from companies including Tesla, Ford, Dow Chemical, Dell, Lockheed-Martin, and General Electric among its 28 members. However over the course of the year the council had been steadily dwindling, with the largest exodus coming this week.

The first major blow to the council's membership came in June when Tesla CEO Elon Musk resigned from the council in response to President Trump pulling out of the Paris climate accord. Musk, a known environmentalist, tweeted:

Other members had left the council for more benign reasons. The departure of Ford CEO, Mark Fields, coincided with his retirement from the company in May but his spot had not been filled since then.

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with manufacturing executives at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. From left are, Trump, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, Ford CEO Mark Fields, Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison, United Technologies Corporation CEO Greg Hayes, and Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn. (Image source: AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

An Exodus Sparked by Protest

During the weekend of August 12 several white supremacist groups, including the KKK, and those that identify with the conservative Alt-Right movement, descended on the city of Charlottesville, Va., to protest the planned removal of a statue commemorating Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The gathering, called the largest white supremacist gathering in at least a decade by several media outlets, attracted large groups of counter-protestors, as well.

Tensions between the two groups culminated on August 12, when 20-year-old Ohio resident James Alex Fields Jr. drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counter-protestors, seriously injuring 19 people and killing one, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, a resident of Charlottesville.

The President Responds

There was an outcry for the President to speak out about the violence in Charlottesville, and to condemn the white nationalist groups behind the protests. But many felt the President's response, which said the violence was on “many sides,” was, at best, an inadequate response and, at worst, an implicit condoning of white supremacy.

“Yes, I think there’s blame on both sides. If you look at both sides — I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either,” the President told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday.

At that same conference, when asked why he believed CEOs were leaving the manufacturing council, the President accused members of the council of being at odds with his plans to reshore more jobs back to the US:

“Because [these CEOs] are not taking their job seriously as it pertains to this country. We want jobs, manufacturing in this country. If you look at some of those people that you're talking about, they're outside of the country. ... We want products made in the country. Now, I have to tell you, some of the folks that will leave, they are leaving out of embarrassment because they make their products outside and I've been lecturing them ... about you have to bring it back to this country. You can't do it necessarily in Ireland and all of these other places. You have to bring this work back to this country. That's what I want. I want manufacturing to be back into the United States so that American workers can benefit.”

#QuitTheCouncil

Before he announced its disbandment, the President's remarks were looking to have a long-standing effect on his Manufacturing Jobs Initiative, as companies were likely looking to distance themselves from President Trump and his remarks, which many feel are racist. In a reaction to the first wave of CEOs leaving the council, activists took to social media, starting the hashtag #QuitTheCouncil to urge more business leaders to exit.

While he did not cite #QuitTheCouncil as part of his decision to leave the manufacturing council , 3M CEO Inge Thulin, was among those targeted (and later praised) by the hashtag:

Thulin announced his departure Wednesday morning, saying in a statement released to news outlets:

“Sustainability, diversity, and inclusion are my personal values and also fundamental to the 3M Vision. ... I joined the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative in January to advocate for policies that align with our values and encourage even stronger investment and job growth – in order to make the United States stronger, healthier, and more prosperous for all people. After careful consideration, I believe the initiative is no longer an effective vehicle for 3M to advance these goals. ...”

Symbolic or Impactful?

It is unclear whether the dissolution of the manufacturing council will have an impact on Trump's efforts to grow jobs in the US manufacturing sector. Some analysts have called the council little more than a symbolic gesture that was unlikely to have had any long-term impact on American manufacturing to begin with. Other analysts have credit Trump as a driving factor behind a spike in reshoring in 2017. However other factors including labor costs and lack of skilled workers overseas are also playing a significant role as more advanced technologies in industries such as automative and electronics hit the market.

 

Chris Wiltz is a senior editor at Design News covering emerging technologies including VR/AR, AI, and robotics.

 

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