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Should Washington Support Manufacturing?

Our LinkedIn group has varying opinions on government support for US manufacturing technology.

Never have we had a more vociferous discussion on our LinkedIn Systems & Product Design Engineering group than that about government support for US manufacturing technology. Specifically, we asked participants whether they thought the government should support the return of manufacturing jobs to the US by funding research, through the use of tax credits, and by backing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

Our respondents didn't pull their punches, but our debate was highly respectful.

"Short answer is, yes," says Stephen Gregorie, president of a company that makes monitors for harsh environments. "It's good to support business but not control or manage it in any way. I don't think government does a good job in that role. This question also begs a discussion on regulations. I think government inefficiency has lead to a tsunami of regulatory red tape. Lastly, supporting STEM is a better use of tax dollars than many entitlement programs but we have to get our budget in order before incurring more debt."

Dean Milinski, a senior software specialist, comes down firmly against any intervention: "No. The free market should remain that, driven by customer needs."

Patrick Dixon, an industrial control consultant, says, "Government's job is to protect your rights and your property. Intervention in the free market has undesirable, unintended consequences. If the federal government is ever going to reverse its reckless debt spending, it needs to start saying no."

Design News contributing editor Jon Titus sums up the hands-off view. "Some manufacturing jobs will never return to the US and shouldn't because manufacturing here simply would cost too much and would be inefficient," he says. "Taxpayers who have no say in bureaucrats allocation of capital should not have their money put into high-risk ventures such as photovoltaic-manufacturer Solyndra and lithium-battery supplier Ener1, both now bankrupt."

Walker Reynolds, Sr., an electrical controls engineer, says that if President Obama "wants to focus on bringing manufacturing back to the US, then he should focus his policy on the direct causes of manufacturing's departure -- high taxes, costly labor, and restrictive regulation,"

Controls engineer Keith Jones laments the uneven global playing field. "You can't have free trade with a country that doesn't have a free people," he says. "Free trade with China is like having a two-way check valve or diode. They have a huge economic advantage with free trade, yet they don't want to hear of it."

Bruce Brandt, a principal engineer at an engineering services company, pins the problem on management. "What I don't see is a recognition that business leadership is more often than not at the root of the problem, and a much bigger driver of their behavior is the stock market than taxes," he says. "A business that sacrifices short-term gain to make an investment is soundly punished in the market."

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