Archive for February, 2013

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Would Destroy our National Sovereignty

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

In his State of the Union address, President Obama declared in his intent to complete negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The Obama administration has pursued the TPP through the offices of U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk instead of under the auspices of the Department of State.

This was the first time negotiations to create a free trade zone with Pacific Rim countries were made public although 15 rounds have been concluded. Eleven nations are participating: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. Although Japan and China are not presently participating in TPP negotiations, “docking provisions” being written into the TPP draft agreement would permit either Japan or China to join the TPP at a later date without suffering any disadvantage.

To implement the TPP free-trade agreement, Congress will be asked to surrender its responsibility under Section 1, Article 8 of the Constitution to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and grant President Obama extra-constitutional “Trade Promotion Authority” to negotiate the final TPP agreement. The administration seeks to gain “fast-track authority,” a provision under the Trade Promotion Authority that requires Congress to review an FTA under limited debate, in an accelerated time frame subject to a yes-or-no vote by a simple majority vote rather than a two-thirds vote, as required for the ratification of a formal treaty.

Under fast-track authority, there is no provision for Congress to modify the agreement by submitting amendments. Fast-track authority also treats the FTA as if it were trade legislation being negotiated by the executive branch. The purpose is to assure foreign partners that the FTA, once signed, will not be changed during the legislative process.

A report released Jan. 24 by the Congressional Research Service, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations and Issues for Congress,” makes clear that the present negotiations are not being conducted under the auspices of formal trade promotion authority as the latest TPA expired July 1, 2007. However, the Obama administration is acting as if fact-track authority were in effect already.

The report states that the TPP is being negotiated as a regional free-trade agreement that U.S. negotiators describe as a “comprehensive and high-standard” FTA. The U.S. hopes the agreement “will liberalize trade in nearly all goods and services and include commitments beyond those currently established in the World Trade Organization (WTO.)”

Oppostion to the TPP ranges from one end of the political spectrum to the other ? from the liberal Public Citizen non-profit, consumer rights advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader in 1971 to the far-right, conservative news organization, World Net Daily founded in 1997 by Joseph Farah.

Lori Wallach of Public Citizen has written several articles warning about the dangers of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. According to her review of TPP, foreign firms would gain the follow privileges:

  • Risks and costs of offshoring to low wage countries eliminated
  • Special guaranteed “minimum standard of treatment” for relocating firms
  • Compensation for loss of “expected future profits” from health, labor environmental, laws (indirect or “regulatory” takings compensation)
  • Right to move capital without limits
  • New rights cover vast definition of investment: intellectual property, permits, derivatives
  • Ban performance requirements, domestic content rules. Absolute ban, not only when applied to investors from signatory countries

Ms. Wallach opines that U.S. multinational corporations have the goal of imposing on more countries a set of extreme foreign investor privileges and rights and their private enforcement through the notorious “investor-state” system. “This system elevates individual corporations and investors to equal standing with each TPP signatory country’s government- and above all of us citizens.” This would enable “foreign investors to skirt domestic courts and laws, and sue governments directly before tribunals of three private sector lawyers operating under World Bank and UN rules to demand taxpayer compensation for any domestic law that investors believe will diminish their ‘expected future profits.’ Over $3 billion has been paid to foreign investors under U.S. trade and investment pacts, while over $14 billion in claims are pending under such deals, primarily targeting environmental, energy, and public health policies.”

This opinion was confirmed by Jerome Corsi in an article last week on World Net Daily, in which he reported that a “leaked copy of the TPP draft makes clear in Chapter 15, ‘Dispute Settlement,’ that the Obama administration intends to surrender U.S. sovereignty to an international tribunal to adjudicate disputes arising under the TPP. Disputes concerning interpretation and application of the TPP agreement, according to Article 15.7, will be adjudicated by an “arbitral tribunal” composed of three TPP members.

He states, “Because the TPP agreement places arbitral tribunals created under TPP to be above U.S. law, the Obama administration’s negotiation of the Trans-Pacific pact without specific consultation with Congress appears aimed at creating a judicial authority higher than the U.S. Supreme Court. The judicial entity could overrule decisions U.S. Federal District and Circuit courts make to apply U.S. laws and regulations to foreign corporations doing business within the United States. The result appears to allow foreign companies doing business within the United States to operate in a legal and regulatory environment that would give the foreign companies decided economic advantages over U.S. companies that remain subject to U.S. laws and regulations.”

Another group opposing the TPP is Americans for Limited Government , a lobbying group and advocacy organization which describes itself as a non-partisan, nationwide network committed to advancing free-market reforms, private property rights and core American liberties President Bill Wilson states, “This new trade agreement will place domestic U.S. firms that do not do business overseas at a competitive disadvantage. Foreign firms under this trade pact could conceivably appeal federal regulatory and court rulings against them to an international tribunal with the apparent authority to overrule our sovereignty. If foreign companies want to do business in America, they should have to follow the same rules as everyone else. Obama is negotiating a trade pact that would constitute a judicial authority higher than even the U.S. Supreme Court that could overrule federal court rulings applying U.S. law to foreign companies. That is unconstitutional. The U.S. cannot be allowed to enter a treaty that would abrogate our Constitution.”

As a director on the board of the American Jobs Alliance, an independent, non-partisan, non-profit organization, I wish to point out some of the additional problems with the TPP that are cited on our website:

TPP Undermines Our Sovereignty and Democracy – it is misleadingly called a trade agreement when in fact it is an expansive system of enforceable global government.  Only two of its 26 chapters actually cover trade issues, like cutting border taxes (“tariffs”) or lifting quotas that limit consumer choice. In reality, most of the deal would impose one-size-fits all international rules to which U.S. federal, state and local law must conform. This includes limits on the U.S. government’s right to regulate foreign investors operating here and control our natural resources and land use. TPP also would provide preferential treatment to foreign banks and other firms operating here. The pact would subject the U.S. to the jurisdiction of two systems of foreign tribunals, including World Bank and United Nations tribunals. These foreign tribunals would be empowered to order payment of U.S. tax dollars to foreign firms if U.S. laws undermined the foreign firms’ new special TPP privileges.

TPP Threatens States Rights - the agreement undermines the critical checks and balances and freedoms established by the U.S. Constitution, which reserves many rights to the people or state governments. TPP would obligate the federal government to force U.S. states to conform state laws to 1,000 pages of rules, regulations and constraints unrelated to trade? from land use to whether foreign firms operating in a state can be required to meet the same laws as domestic firms.

The U.S. federal government would be required to use all possible means – including law suits, and cutting off federal funds for states – to force states to comply with TPP rules. Already a foreign tribunal related to the World Trade Organization has issued a ruling explicitly stating that such tactics must be employed against U.S. states or the U.S. would face indefinite trade sanctions until state laws were brought into compliance.

TPP bans Buy American - it explicitly prohibits both Buy American and state-level Buy Local programs.

UN and World Bank Tribunals Would Replace U.S. Courts – the “Investment” chapter would submit the U.S. to the jurisdiction of international tribunals established under the auspices of the United Nations or World Bank. It would shift decisions over the payment of U.S. tax dollars away from Congress and outside of the federal court system established by Article III of the Constitution to the authority of international tribunals. These UN and World Bank tribunals do not apply U.S. law, but rather international law set in the agreement. These tribunals would judge whether foreign investors operating within the U.S. are being provided the proper property rights protections. The standard for property rights protection would not be those established by the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, but rather international property rights standards, as interpreted by an international tribunal.

TPP Cedes a Quarter of all U.S. Land to Foreign Control (544 million acres of public land)  – it would subject to the foreign tribunals’ judgment all contracts between the U.S. federal government and investors from TPP nations – including  subsidiaries of Chinese firms –  “with respect to natural resources that a national authority controls, such as for their exploration, extraction, refining, transportation, distribution, or sale; to supply services to the public on behalf of the Party, such as power generation or distribution, water treatment or distribution, or telecommunications; or to undertake infrastructure projects, such as the construction of roads, bridges, canals, dams, or pipelines, that are not for the exclusive or predominant use and benefit of the government.”

In conclusion, the TPP is a direct threat to American national sovereignty, the U.S. Constitution and American-owned businesses. TPP would destroy American jobs and our independence. It would have a negative impact on jobs, the safety of our food, Internet freedom, our right to ‘Buy American,’ and our laws. We must make sure Congress rejects any fast-track authority the Obama administration seeks to invoke when it comes time to get final congressional approval.

Please join me in opposing granting fast-track authority by signing the petition at the American Jobs Alliance website: www.americanjobsalliance.com. In addition, email, write, or call your Congressional representative to let them know that you oppose approving the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

 

Could California Manufacturing Thrive Again?

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

On February 14, about 135 business, civic, academic, and labor leaders met at the conference facilities of AMN Healthcare for the “Manufacturing in California – Making California Thrive” economic summit. Comments to welcome attendees were made in turn by San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey, Assembly member Marie Waldron, Dale Bankhead from Assembly member Toni Atkins office, and Senator Mark Wyland.

Then, Michael Stumo, president of the Coalition for a Prosperous America, provided an overview of the schedule for the day that included an overview of manufacturing in California, a panel of local manufacturers, a panel of national presenters, and breakout sessions after lunch.

I provided the overview of California manufacturing in which I briefly discussed the history of manufacturing in California that I wrote about in a previous blog and pointed out that even though California is perceived as bad for manufacturing, it is the 8th largest market in world and ranks first in manufacturing for both jobs and output. Manufacturing in California accounts for 11.7% of Gross State Product and 9% of workforce. California leads the nation in monies spent on R&D, and California companies received over 50% of all Venture Capital dollars invested in the U. S. in 2011. California high-tech exports also ranked first nationwide, totaling $48 billion in 2011.

The major manufacturing industries are shown by the following chart:

Besides the great weather, California also has world-famous research institutions and research universities, a skilled, educated workforce, a large pool of inventors/entrepreneurs, and strong networks of “angel” investors and venture capitalists. California inventors and entrepreneurs are supported by more than 20 business incubators throughout the state, including two incubator facilities in San Diego – EvoNexus and the San Diego Technology Incubator, as well as the incubator-without-walls, CONNECT’s Springboard program.

In addition, California has 40 Enterprise Zones throughout the state, two of which are in San Diego’s south county. Enterprise Zone companies are eligible for substantial tax credits:

  • Hiring Credits – Firms can earn $37,440 or more in state tax credits for each qualified employee hired
  • Up to 100% Net Operating Loss (NOL) carry-forward for up to 15 years under most circumstances.
  • Sales tax credits on purchases of up to $20 million per year of qualified machinery and machinery parts;
  • Up-front expensing of certain depreciable property
  • Unused tax credits can be applied to future tax years
  • Enterprise Zone companies can earn preference points on state contracts.

There are also 17 Foreign Trade Zones (FTZs) in California that are sites in or near a U.S. Customs port of entry where foreign and domestic goods are considered to be in international trade. Goods can be brought into zone without formal Customs entry or without incurring Customs duties/excise taxes until they are imported into the U. S. FTZs are intended to promote U.S. participation in trade and commerce by eliminating or reducing the unintended costs associated with U.S. trade laws

Of course, no overview would be complete without mentioning the disadvantages of manufacturing in California. In the Small Business Entrepreneur Council Survival Index of 2011, California ranks 46th for its business climate because of the following:

  • Highest personal income & capital gains taxes
  • Highest corporate income & capital gains taxes
  • Highest gas and diesel taxes
  • High state minimum wage
  • High electric utility costs
  • High workers’ compensation costs
  • More stringent Cal OSHA & Cal EPA regulations
  • Stringent Air Quality Monitoring District rules
  • Large number of health insurance mandates

As a result, California has lost over 500,000 manufacturing jobs since the year 2001 as shown by the chart below.

No state, county, or city agency keeps track of the number of manufacturing companies leaving California, but there are frequent anecdotal stories in the news. Of course, everyone had seen or heard one of the ads by Texas Governor Rick Perry to woo California companies to relocate to Texas, as well as the fact that he was in California that very week to meet with some California companies.

I then moderated a panel of the following local manufacturers, who gave their viewpoints of the challenges of doing business in California:

  • Karl Friedrich Haarburger – VP, Solar Energy Industrial Operations, SOITEC
  • Neal Nordstrom – COO, PureForge
  • Rick Urban – COO, Quality Controlled Manufacturing, Inc.
  • Paul Brown – CFO, The Wheat Group
  • Craig Anderson – EHS Director, Solar Turbines, Inc.

Their comments provided examples of most of the above-cited disadvantages of doing business in California with particular emphasis on the problems of raising taxes retroactively in the last election by the passage of Proposition 30. Neal Nordstrom said, “It isn’t just the increase in income taxes and sales taxes, it’s the cumulative effect of all of the taxes and the uncertainty of what is happening next.” Businesses need to be able to have some certainty in their planning, so passing retroactive taxes makes planning for the future difficult and hurts their profitability greatly.

Mr. Anderson commented that there biggest problem was caused by the passage of AB 32. He stated, “The technology to comply with AB 32 does not currently exist, so there is great uncertainty as to whether Solar Turbines will be able to comply with the law by the deadline for compliance.”

Greg Autry, School of Business and Economics, Chapman University, led off the national panel with the topic of Trade Policy. The U. S. had a trade deficit $559.8 billion in 2011, of which over half ($295.4 billion) was with China. Every trade agreement signed in the past 20 years has resulted in an increase trade deficit with our trading partners. The U. S. already has an increased trade deficit with Korea and Columbia from the recently signed trade agreements. He said, “States need to stop trying to “poach” companies from other states and work together against our common adversary, China. States cannot compete against another country where the government is subsidizing manufacturing companies to take control of markets.” Mr. Autry showed a video he had taped during a visit to China in which an employee of Foxconn stated that the Chinese government had provided the land and built the facility where the iPads and iPhone are being manufactured without cost to Foxconn, as well as covering all of the expenses for running the facility for three years. He also showed a video interview with an executive of CODA Automotive Inc. that has opened its HQ in Los Angeles and claims to be making their electric car in the U. S. when, in fact, they are importing the “glider” (a car without the drive train) from China. Miles Automotive partnered with China-based Hafei Saibao Electric Motor Car and Qingyuan Electric Vehicle Co. to establish Coda Automotive as an affiliate company. Mr. Autry opined that federal tax rebates should not be going to purchase an electric car for essentially a Chinese import to the detriment of American car manufacturers like General Motors.

Pat Choate – Economist; Author, Saving Capitalism: Keeping America Strong, covered the importance of the protection of Intellectual Property to the future of American manufacturing. He said that the U. S. is the most innovative country in the world and issues more patents than any other country. However, the recent passage of the America Invents Act converting the U. S. from a “first-to-invent” to “first-to-file” is hurting our innovation. Most growth comes from “disruptive” technology developed by inventors/entrepreneurs of small companies, and the “first-to-file favors large companies that can file a challenge against these small companies in the hopes of bankrupting them to avoid disruptive technology from harming their business. The length of time for the Patent Office to issue a patent has increased from an average of 18 months to 36 months, which is hurting startup companies. The share of patents granted to U. S. residents and small entities has dropped several percentage points since 2007.1988.  He concluded by saying that the constitutionality of the America Invents Act is being challenged, and he hopes that it will be deemed unconstitutional.

Michael Stumo – CEO, Coalition for a Prosperous America, described the math about how a consumption tax could reduce the domestic tax burden, include imports in our tax base, and narrow the trade deficit, increase U.S. production, and fund reductions in the income tax while maintaining progressivity. He explained that our national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) equals of Consumption plus Investment plus Government Procurement plus Net Exports (Total exports minus Total Imports). Every one of our trading partners (150 countries) has a form of consumption tax, including value added taxes (VATs), with an average 17% level. These countries rebate these taxes on their exports, while the U. S. does not add a tax on its imports. The taxes are “border adjustable” because they act as a tariff on our goods sent to them and charged the VAT. This has created our more than $500 billion trade deficit with our trading partners, $298 billion with China alone. CPA advocates changes in U. S. trade policy to address this unfairness which tremendously distorts trade flows.

Thea Lee – Deputy Chief of Staff, President’s Office at AFL-CIO spoke passionately on the need to have a national manufacturing strategy that will create good paying jobs for American workers. Key points that she made were: We need to have a longer-term goal of what kind of country we want to be and how to achieve it. It will require some strategic investment in infrastructure. We need to figure out what kind of trade we want and what other countries are doing. Having an ideological position that free trade is good when other countries are pursuing mercantilism is harmful. We need to be responsive to what other countries are doing. We need to have a competitive trade policy. The ultimate goal is not to have more free trade but more prosperity at home. We need to get back into a job creation policy. We haven’t done trade policy very well, and we need to rethink our trade policies. We don’t need more dopey free trade agreements (taken from notes but not verbatim quotes.)

After lunch, the attendees were split into three groups for the breakout session, in which five issues were discussed and voted against each other, one pair at a time, to determine the top two issues. The five issues were:

  • Trade Reform
  • Tax Reform
  • Intellectual Property
  • Regulatory Reform
  • Manufacturing Strategy

After voting, the groups reconvened to share the outcome of their voting. The top two issues voted as most critical to be addressed were:  Regulatory Reform and Manufacturing Strategy. Regulatory Reform was chosen as the top issue by all three groups because they felt manufacturers needed to have their immediate “pain” alleviated before other issues could be considered. A manufacturing strategy was deemed the second most important issue because if you have a strategy that supports manufacturing, it will encompass intellectual property protection and trade reform. Attendees were invited to sign up to participate in a Task Force to be formed. I will be chairing the Task Force, so please contact me at mich...@savingusmanufacturing.com if you would like to participate.

If our elected representatives will work with business, civic, academic, and labor leaders, I believe we can make manufacturing in California thrive again and once more be the “Golden State” of opportunity.

What is the State of the American Metal Forming and Fabricating Industry

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

The Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) held an executive conference in Irvine on February 6-7, 2013 for their forming and fabricating members. Attendees came from as far away as Illinois, Minnesota, and Ohio. The companies represented ranged in size from a low of 50 employees to a high of 350 employees.

On the first day, the schedule of events included presentations on business conditions and benchmarking by PMA President, Bill Gaskin. Mr. Gaskin reported that the metal forming and fabricating industry had sustained 40 months of a general upturn in business since the Great Recession officially ended in the summer of 2009.

In 2011, orders were up 8% over 2010, and shipments were up 11% over 2010. The Year to Date figures through November for 2012 showed an upturn of 6% for orders and 5% for shipments based on the control group of 100 member companies. Employment was up 4.3% on the average, and 34% of companies had openings for skilled workers.

Other good news was that metal prices in general had gone down by about 50% since 2011, except for copper and high nickel stainless steel alloys. In turn, prices that the companies get for scrap material have dropped.

Then, Kathie Poindexter, Manager of Production Marketing of Epicor Manufacturing gave a presentation on “Maximize Lean Strategies with Mobile Technologies on the Plant Floor. One of the top business drivers is utilizing an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) strategy to reduce cost of operations (44%) and because workers are increasingly mobile (39%).

About 35% of manufacturers provide front-line workers with mobile devices to increase worker productivity and improve collaboration. Some of the benefits of utilizing hand-held mobile devices on the shop floor in conjunction with Epicor’s ERP software solutions are:

  • Asset tracking
  • Real-time equipment usage
  • Electronic Kan Ban
  • Instant inventory counts
  • Electronic work orders
  • Maintenance scheduling
  • Quality and error proofing
  • Labor tracking per job or piece of equipment
  • Real-time production management
  • Support for lean initiatives
  • Improved decision making
  • Increased management effectiveness

Laptops, tablets, and “smart” phones utilized by field sales and service personnel provide “business anywhere, anytime” benefits:

  • Instant quotes
  • Real-time inventory
  • Immediate order processing
  • Real-time delivery status

After this presentation, the group was bused to the nearby facility of MK Products/MK Manufacturing to see how the Epicor ERP solutions have been utilized by the company. MK Products is a privately owned company, founded in 1966, to manufacture a full line of Push-Pull welding products and Orbital welding systems, welding “guns” and fusion tube welding products. The sister company, MK Manufacturing, performs contract design, engineering, and manufacturing services, including machining, fabrication, processing, and assembly.

Chris Westlake, President, conducted the tour of the over 100,000 sq. ft. facility and gave an enthusiastic description of how they have utilized the Epicor ERP solutions and hand-held mobile devices from the initial concept design to manufacturing, processing, assembly, and shipping. Real-time tracking and retrieval of inventory for use on the shop floor reduced their labor needs and improved efficiency substantially.

After dinner, I gave a presentation on “Returning Manufacturing to America,” focusing on how American metal forming and fabrication manufacturers can use the principles of Total Cost of Ownership  and the Total Cost EstimatorTM developed by Harry Moser of the Reshoring Initiative to help their customers and prospects understand the benefits of returning manufacturing to America.

I presented case studies showing that many manufacturers often make the decision to offshore based on faulty assumptions that prove to be far off from reality in execution. Many times the anticipated cost savings in offshoring have been offset by the hidden costs and risk factors in doing business offshore. This has resulted in an increasing number of companies, even multinational corporations such as General Electric and NCR, to return product line manufacturing to the United States. The Reshoring Initiative estimates that about 10% of manufacturers have “reshored” resulting in 50,000 jobs.

The next day featured breakfast and a tour of the re-opened Amada America, Inc. Solution Center in Buena Park California. The Solution Center is Amada’s equipment showcase and technical center for the western United States. Amada America, Inc. was established in Seattle, Washington in 1971 and has been located in California since 1973. Its company headquarters are located in a nearby building in Buena Park.

Amada America COO and President, Mike Guerin, began the tour with overview of Amada’s history as a company in Japan and America. What was exciting to me was the fact that in 2011 Amada made a decision to manufacture laser-cutting machines in America, opening a new plant recently in Brea, California to do so, with plans to also manufacture turret presses and brakes at the facility in the future.  The main reasons are:  lower labor rates in the U. S. than Japan, reduced transportation costs, and proximity to their major market.

The facility tour was conducted by Joe Greeninger, Division Manager, and featured several new models of fiber laser machines with 3-axis linear drive systems, traditional servo-driven lasers, turret presses, automation equipment, and press brakes.

The technical capabilities of the new fiber laser machines were quite impressive compared to CO2 laser cutting systems. Some of the advantages are:

  • No harmful emissions because they don’t require gas to generate the laser beam
  • Expanded capabilities – can cut copper, brass and titanium in addition to aluminum and steels and can cut thinner gauge material
  • Lower maintenance because there are no mirrors in the laser source

After returning from the tour, the attendees participated in a business roundtable discussion of “hot button” business issues. The top issues were:

Skilled workers  – A few of the companies attending were providing training in-house using ToolingU curriculum and others were using paying for employees to take classes at local community colleges. One of the Illinois companies had an apprenticeship program through the Technology Manufacturing Association in Illinois. California attendees from Walker Corporation mentioned getting training through a private company in San Bernardino, Technical Employment Training, Inc. Training is also available through California’s Manufacturing Extension Program (MEPs), CMTC in southern California and Manex in northern California. I shared information about the new Workshop for Warriors in San Diego providing training for veterans in machining, sheet metal fabrication, welding, and manufacturing software.

Economy – Manufacturers need certainty to be able to plan, and there is no certainty with the fear of sequestration, high federal budget deficits, and national debt. Companies are remaining lean and not adding people unless need to replace someone or need special skills.

One company shared how they reduced utility costs by paining walls white and converting from pneumatic to electric compressors. Another company shared that their utility company did and energy assessment and provided them with free lighting to reduce energy usage.

Health Care – Most of the companies pay for all or most of their employees’ health insurance now, but it will be cheaper to pay penalty when Obamacare goes into full effect. Question is whether they can get and retain skilled employees if do not provide some health care benefit. One company pays for cost of “Medigap” insurance to retain older skilled workers when they qualify for Medicare.

Doing business in California – California attendees reported that their supply chain is going away, their Workers’ Compensation insurance costs are higher, and regulations by Cal OSHA, Cal EPA, and the Air Quality Monitoring District are more stringent than federal regulations. In addition, the cost of living, housing prices, and taxes are higher than other states. The only advantages most could see were the great weather and that California seems to be a hotbed of invention/innovation by startups coupled with a strong angel and Venture Capital investor network.

Sustaining Lean – Attendees agree that you need a lean “champion” and cultural change to succeed. Engaging customers to help and networking with others is important. Setting an annual goal of regularly scheduled Kaizen events is beneficial. The ERP system you use can help of hurt lean sustainability.

Taxes – It is important to get elected representatives at the state and federal level to realize that 60-70% of manufacturers are sub-chapter “S” corporations so they are taxed at the individual rate. Reducing taxes for “C” corporations as is being discussed will not help these companies. The R&D tax credit needs to be made permanent instead of renewed every year. The Value Added Taxes (VATs) charged by most other countries were discussed, but no one thought they would be seriously considered in the near future.

Suggestions for the next executive conference included having a sub-group for technical personnel to share knowledge and case studies on how to make particular parts and having a tour of a metal forming and fabricating member company near the conference location.

It is great that the U. S. metal forming and fabricating industry has remained strong, but it would be even better if more manufacturing sectors were doing as well so they could be providing more jobs. One of the reasons that metal forming and fabricating industry is so doing so well is that new, state-of-the-art equipment is very automated and highly efficient so it is less labor intensive than many other manufacturing industries. Transportation costs for metal parts, especially larger parts, cost more than plastic or rubber parts so there is more incentive for original equipment manufacturers to use vendors that are closer to them. This means that there has been less outsourcing offshore for metal formed and fabricated parts than plastic and rubber parts. As transportation costs and labor rates increase even more than they already have, there will be even less incentive to offshore metal formed and fabricated parts in the future.

 

What Do American Manufacturers Owe Their Country?

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Last week The Economist conducted an on-line debate on the question:  Do multinational corporations have a duty to maintain a strong presence in their home countries? After a very intense written debate between Harry Moser, former president of GF AgieCharmilles  and founder of the Reshoring Initiative, and Jagdish Bhagwati, Professor of Economics and Law, Columbia University, the vote was 54% “yes,” and 46% “no.”

The moderator of the debate was Tamzin Booth, European business correspondent for The Economist, who introduced the topic by stating, “after the Great Recession, with high levels of unemployment persisting in rich countries, politicians are putting enormous pressure on firms to either keep operations at home or bring them back. The offshoring and outsourcing of work overseas have never been more unpopular. So strong is the backlash against firms which shift jobs abroad that many companies are choosing not to do it for fear of igniting a public outcry. And a “reshoring” trend, bringing factories home to America from China and elsewhere, is gathering pace and support from several American multinationals, including General Electric and Ford Motor Company.”

While Mr. Moser acknowledges that multinational corporations (MNCs) “have a responsibility to enhance shareholder return and obey relevant laws and regulations,” he believes that “MNCs also have a duty to maintain a strong presence in their country of origin,” which he defines “as investing, employing, manufacturing and sourcing at least in proportion to their sales in the origin country.”

He states, “This duty has two sources. The first is a quid pro quo for the special benefits that their charter provides. The second is based on understanding that a strong presence is almost always in the interest of their shareholders.”

In his pro argument for the first duty, Mr. Moser quotes Clyde Prestowitz: “Corporations are not created by the shareholders or the management. Rather they are created by the state. They are granted important privileges by the state (limited liability, eternal life, etc). They are granted these privileges because the state expects them to do something beneficial for the society that makes the grant. They may well provide benefits to other societies, but their main purpose is to provide benefits to the societies (not to the shareholders, not to management, but to the societies) that create them.”

This view is corroborated by a recent essay, “The American Corporation,” by Ralph Gomory and Richard Sylla, in which they provide a brief history of corporation formation in America. From 1790 to 1860, over 22,000 corporations were chartered under special legislative acts by states, and

several thousand more were chartered under general incorporation laws introduced in the 1840s and 1850s. These state granted charters were not perpetual and had to be renewed periodically, “with its “powers, responsibilities?including to the community?and basic governance provisions carefully specified.”

The essayists comment that general incorporation laws were the answer to the problem of corruption in legislative chartering, but created their own problems in the late 19th Century with the rise of “Robber Barons, both the business leaders who amassed great power and wealth in the rise of mass-production and mass-distribution industries, and the great financiers of Wall Street who collaborated with them.” The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of so few led to the passage of antitrust laws and corporate regulations at both the federal and state levels regulations in the 20th Century to prevent or rein in monopolies.

The stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression resulted in a multitude of “New Deal” reforms and regulations on the corporate and financial sectors to protect and inform stockholders and the general public.

Gomory and Sylla write that for decades after WWII, “the problem of corporate goals seemed under control,” and “the interests of managers, stockholders workers, consumers and society seemed well aligned” while the U. S. and the Soviet Union were fighting a Cold War.

As late as 1981, the U. S. Business Roundtable issued a statement recognizing the stewardship obligations of corporations to society:  “Corporations have a responsibility, first of all, to make available to the public quality goods and services at fair prices, thereby earning a profit that attracts investment to continue and enhance the enterprise, provide jobs, and build the economy.” In addition, “The long-term viability of the corporation depends upon its responsibility to the society of which it is a part. And the well being of society depends upon profitable and responsible business enterprises.”

Establishing plants in another country in order to do business in that country and be closer to your customers is a reasonable business decision for many companies whose products are sold globally, such as Coca Cola and other food and beverage manufacturers. I concur with Mr. Moser’s statement. “We do not question multinational companies’ right to invest offshore.” However, it is another thing to transfer all or most of the manufacturing of your products to be sold mainly in the U. S. market to another country, at the cost of hundreds, if not thousands, of American jobs.

This brings us to Mr. Moser’s second pro argument to the question; namely, “a strong presence is almost always in the interest of their shareholders.” He states that his experience with the Reshoring Initiative’s free Total Cost of Ownership Estimator™ has shown that “in their excessive focus on offshoring of manufacturing, many MNCs make suboptimal decisions, actually reducing the long-term return to their shareholders. Thus many MNCs will more fully maximise returns for shareholders if they maintain a stronger presence.”

This is because most MNCs do not accurately measure the “Total Cost of Ownership” or “landed costs” in making decisions regarding where to manufacture their products. They ignore the “hidden costs” of doing business offshore about which I have written extensively in my book , such as:  quality problems, legal liabilities, currency fluctuations, travel expenses, difficulty in making design changes, time and effort to manage offshore contract, and cost of inventory.

In addition, Mr. Moser states that the behaviors of MNCs include:

  • “Ignoring a whole range of medium-term risks: IP loss; impact on innovation; and loss of competence and control due to increasing reliance on offshore outsourcing firms. The further a firm is removed from the manufacturing of its products, the harder it is to evolve and make future related products.
  • Ignoring longer-term catastrophic risks associated with shifting their presence offshore, including the decline in American economic, technological and military strength: risk of losing sales and assets in developing countries, especially when competing with local state-owned enterprises (SOEs); loss of the government-funded R&D that gives them a head start in many technologies; loss of strong origin-country defence and legal systems that protect the corporate charter; loss of “Pax Americana” that protects their trade around the world; and populist calls for anti-MNC political actions resulting from income inequality driven by a shriveling middle class.”

One important risk that Mr. Moser did not mention is the risk of theft of Intellectual Property by offshore manufacturers, especially in China. For many years, China has been doing this by reverse engineering, counterfeiting, and cyber espionage, but it has been made easier in the past two years by the mandatory technology transfer required by the Chinese government for corporations who set up plants in China.

In his con argument, Professor Bhagwati asserts that global sourcing and locating plants around the world has happened already, and “there is little point in tilting at reality.” He states, “Multinationals’ products, after all, can now hardly even be defined as American, French or any other nationality when their parts come from every corner of the world. All that matters, he argues, is that worldwide operations bring profits to the multinational, thereby benefiting the country in which it is headquartered. , “MNC investment abroad is good, not bad, for America unless it is a result of distorting tax policies that lead to overinvestment abroad. Asking MNCs to have a presence at home, and subsidising or forcing them under threat of penalties to do so, makes little sense unless you claim that this presence produces some externalities…the benefits to the MNC, and hence to America most likely, will accrue regardless of where the MNC does R&D, in Bangalore or Boston.”

In is rebuttal, Professor Bhagwati states, “Compelling an American MNC to retain a strong presence in America would be the wrong prescription no matter which of the two rationales you accept…Forcing them to produce at home when that makes them uncompetitive in world markets is surely the wrong prescription: it makes them uncompetitive in markets which today are fiercely competitive.

While I realize and have written about the fact that American manufacturers are under a disadvantage in dealing with countries like China that practice “predatory mercantilism,” it is my opinion that American multinational and national manufacturing corporations have more than a “duty to maintain a strong presence in their home countries.” As American citizens, we “pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Thus, we owe “allegiance” to our country, which is defined as “the loyalty of a citizen to his or her government.” Other synonyms are:  fidelity, faithfulness, adherence, and devotion.

Obviously, if you are a loyal, faithful, devoted citizen of the United States this means that you take actions in your personal and business life to support your country and do not purposely take actions that may cause harm to your country. Moving a majority of manufacturing to other countries, especially China is doing harm to your country since China has a written plan to replace the United States as the world’s super power. Therefore, American multinational corporations and other American manufacturers owe allegiance to the United States of America by maintaining a strong presence in our country.