Archive for March, 2017

“Eliminate the Trade Deficit” Resonates in Halls of Congress

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

 “You were ahead of the curve on trade.” This was the common refrain heard last week by members of the Coalition for a Prosperous America who attended our annual fly-in to Washington, D. C. We had eight teams of members visiting Congressional Representatives and Senators on March 14th and 15th. As Chair of our developing California chapter, it was my fifth year attending the CPA fly-in, and our simple message of eliminating the trade deficit resonated well in the halls of Congress.

No one could deny that we have a huge deficit as shown on the chart below:


The annual trade deficit has reduced our U. S. GDP by some 3% to 5.5% each year, and those reductions compound over time.

There is no historical record of any other country in history running 41 years of consecutive trade deficits. Why is this important? Because every billion dollars of net imports costs 4,500 American jobs according to conservative estimates. So last year’s $502 billion deficit equates to 2.25 million jobs lost.

As a result, our Labor Force Participation is in serious decline. The U. S. is the only G7 nation with a DECLINE in LFPR since 1998 for workers ages 15-64. It peaked at 77.4% in 1998 and dropped down five points to 72.6% in 2015, meaning that over 7 million people dropped out of labor force since 1998.

The remedy recommended by the Coalition for a Prosperous America is simple: Congress should establish a national goal to eliminate the trade deficit.

Balanced trade over time is the goal of free trade and of fair trade. Balanced trade will re-industrialize our country, enable massive job creation, grow our wealth and effectively neutralize foreign mercantilism. Trade policy must address true drivers of deficit, these countries and their practices. Many of these countries have export-oriented growth strategies in which they rely upon the US market to consume their exports rather than increasing their internal consumption. China, Germany, Japan and other countries pursue net exports through strategic mercantilism, not free trade. Currency manipulation, value added taxes, state influenced enterprises, and other
tactics are used.

The following top 10 countries account for 90% of America’s 2016 goods trade deficit:

Rank Country 1992 Deficit 2016 Deficit Change 1992-2016
1 China -$18B -$355B -$337B
2 Mexico -$6B -$115B -$121B
3 Japan -$50B -$75B -$25B
4 Germany -$8B -$70B -$62B
5 Canada -$15B -$58B -$53B
6 Ireland +5B -$36B -$37B
7 Vietnam $0B -$34B -$34B
8 South Korea -$2B -$30B -$30B
9 Italy -$4B -$30B -$26B
10 India -$2B -$30B -$28B

Note: These figures are based on U.S. Commerce Dept. data subtracting Imports for Consumption from Domestic Exports which are intended to strip out goods that enter and leave the U.S. simply for re-export, without having any significant value added to them inside the U.S.

Currency manipulation and misalignment are key tactics that the above countries use to gain an advantage in trade. Currency manipulation is trade cheating, because it is both an illegal tariff and a subsidy.

Foreign governments intervene in foreign exchange markets by buying dollars. More than 20 countries have intervened in foreign exchange markets to undervalue their currencies in the past ten years. These countries account for one-third of the world economy and two-thirds of the world’s current account surpluses. Gagnon has calculated that “A country’s current account balance increases between 60 and 100 cents for each dollar spent on intervention.”

“The largest loser is the United States, whose trade and current account deficits have been $200 billion to $500 billion per year larger as a result. The United States has thus suffered 1 million to 5 million job losses.” (Bergsten, 2012) The U. S. economy cannot produce jobs and wealth without addressing this problem. The Coalition for a Prosperous America proposes the following solutions:

• U.S. trade enforcement law should treat currency undervaluation as a countervailable subsidy
• Tariffs should be applied against currency manipulators to neutralize their unearned advantage
• Government policy should pursue a dollar priced at equilibrium rather than accept a persistently overvalued dollar
• Trade agreements should include effective controls on currency manipulation and misalignment

Border Adjustable Consumption Taxes (aka VATs) are a tariff by another name. They are allowed under WTO rules and range from 12% to 24% with the average being 17% globally. This means that virtually all foreign countries tax our exports at this average 17% VAT. They subsidize domestic shipments abroad with rebating the VAT to their manufacturers. The U.S. does not have a VAT to offset this advantage.

Consumption taxes are a tax on consumption as opposed to income, wealth, property, or wages. A Goods and Service Tax (GST) and a Value Added Tax (VAT) are consumption taxes. They are usually a tax only on the “value added” to a product, material, or service. Over 150 countries have such taxes, but the U. S. does not.

The U. S. negotiated tariff reductions or elimination in good faith with our trading partners under NAFTA and the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA, but Mexico instituted a 15% VAT, and Central America established a 12% VAT.

After 40 years of tariff reduction under various trade agreements, other countries replaced tariffs with VATs, but the U. S. did not. Thus, American exporters face nearly the same border taxes as they did in the early 1970s.

To solve this problem, the Coalition for a Prosperous America proposes that Congress implement a border adjustable consumption tax (VAT) and use the proceeds to credit against the payroll taxes paid by all workers and businesses. The benefits would be:

• Reduce the cost of labor in the U.S.
• Give every worker a raise
• Lower the price of U.S. exports
• Levy a tax on imports

In President Obama’s 2016 budget, Payroll Taxes were projected to be 31% of the revenue or $1.11 trillion. If a 12.9% VAT were set, it would produce approximately $1.45 trillion in tax revenue, completely offsetting the revenue from Payroll Taxes. All Payroll Taxes could be eliminated with a credit. With a 15% VAT, other tax reform or domestic production cost reduction could be funded. European Union countries use their VATs to provide another revenue stream to allow them to reduce their corporate taxes to be more globally competitive.

The benefit of giving a Payroll Tax credit out of VAT funds is that it would offset the regressiveness of a VAT by elimination of the regressive Payroll Tax. There would be no impact on prices of domestic goods and services, but prices of imported goods and services would increase. This would incentivize consumers to buy Made in USA products instead of imports. In addition, it would reduce the cost of production for U. S. producers enabling them to be more competitive in the global marketplace.

Our Coalition members also encouraged Congress to reinstate the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) that was struck down by an unelected foreign tribunal of the World Trade Organization. Congress caved in to the WTO ruling and passed repeal legislation that exceeded the WTO ruling eliminating COOL for beef and pork, as well as for ground beef and ground pork.

Canada and Mexico want to export their cattle, hogs, beef, and pork to the U. S. without informational labeling that reveals where the cattle and hogs were born, raised, and slaughtered. Right now, meat packers are able to import cattle and hogs and slaughter them to get the USDA stamp. Consumers want to know where cattle and hogs were born and raised, not just slaughtered for reasons of food safety.

Congressional Representatives and Senators need to have the courage to reinstate COOL and vigorously defend our national sovereignty and consumer choice against international interference. COOL legislation enables consumers to Buy American in the grocery store. It prevents consumer deception and empowers consumers to buy food produced under the safety regime of their choosing. It would help to jumpstart America’s ailing rural economy through supporting domestic producers and preventing industry consolidation.

The final message that is critical is that the U. S. must modernize its foreign investment rules to protect American companies that are critical to our national security and economic security. Investors from countries like China, Japan, and South Korea are making strategic acquisitions of U. S. companies and land that threaten our security and future prosperity. These same countries either severely restrict or do not allow 100% acquisition of companies in their country. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) can block incoming investment based upon national security concerns, but not for economic strategy reasons as other countries do.

Congress must update the laws governing foreign investment to include economic security and allow longer review periods, beyond 30 days, for CFIUS to review proposed investments. This would allow more time to gauge systemic threats to U. S. interests in addition to individual cases. The legislation should include a “net benefit” test to encompass American economic interests where proposed acquisitions of companies that are important to future U. S. technology and employment are concerned (both civilian and defense related).

The question now is – Will Congress have the courage to take the bold action needed to eliminate the trade deficit, address currency manipulation, reinstate COOL and control foreign investments? Time will tell.


Why Universities are Important to Rebuilding U.S. Manufacturing

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

The fact that more and more manufacturers are returning manufacturing to the U. S. or keeping manufacturing here instead of moving to Mexico or Asia is good news, but on February 23, 2017, President Trump met with two dozen manufacturing CEOs at the White House.

While they “declared their collective commitment to restoring factory jobs lost to foreign competition,” some of the CEOs “suggested that there were still plenty of openings for U.S. factory jobs but too few qualified people to fill them. They urged the White House to support vocational training for the high-tech skills that today’s manufacturers increasingly require…The jobs are there, but the skills are not,” one executive said during meetings with White House officials that preceded a session with the president.”

“We were challenged by the president to … come up with a program to make sure the American worker is trained for the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow,” Reed Cordish, a White House official, said after Thursday’s meetings.”

Training today’s workers in the skills they will need for the jobs of the future in manufacturing is important, but we also need to educate the next generation of manufacturing workers. We need more engineers to rebuild American manufacturing, and universities play a key role in providing this education.

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. David B. Williams, Executive Dean of the Professional Colleges and Dean of The College of Engineering at The Ohio State University, located in Columbus, Ohio, to discuss the role universities are playing in rebuilding manufacturing and educating the next generation of manufacturing workers.

His official biography on the University website states, “Williams is involved in many university-industry economic development partnerships. He serves on the boards of ASM International, the State of Ohio’s Third Frontier Advisory Board, Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (formerly American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute), Columbus 2020, Metro Early College STEM School, EWI, Ohio Aerospace & Aviation Council, and the Transportation Research Center.”

Dean Williams said, “Ohio State University is a manufacturing R&D and training Powerhouse. Manufacturing is a critical part of the state of Ohio’s economy and accounts for 17 percent of the state’s GPD. It is also the state’s largest industry sector. We have partnered with over two hundred manufacturers in developing and funding research that can be used in their industries. It is a very important part of the college. We use the talent of our professors, graduate, and undergrad students and technology. OSU is committed to innovating applied research for product design, technology commercialization, and manufacturing for industry through its programs.”

Dean Williams mentioned that on October 1, 2016 the Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME) was designated as a new Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) affiliate organization, and that Ohio State’s MEP program will work directly with manufacturers to identify and execute growth strategies. Afterward, I was provided with information that states: “The Ohio State University’s Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME) will receive up to $8.6 million in federal, state and industry funding over the next five years to lead a program facilitating growth of small- and mid-sized manufacturing companies in the 15 county central Ohio region. The program is funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technologies, with matching funds provided by the Ohio Development Services Agency, which administers operations through seven regional affiliates.”

I found the information about Central Ohio’s manufacturing interesting very interesting: “The central Ohio manufacturing economy is comprised of approximately 3,350 self-identified manufacturing companies across the 15 Central Ohio counties. More than 90 percent of them have 50 or fewer employees. Many small and medium-sized manufacturing companies are aware of the growth challenges they face, but still require assistance to overcome them.” The size of companies is similar to San Diego County, in which 97% have fewer than 50 employees.

Dean Williams told me that the Center’s Executive Director, John Bair, is a successful entrepreneur, not an academic, and added that they had invited him to head up the Center after he had sold his company and semi-retired.”

He added, “We invite manufacturers to bring their problems to us, and then we put together teams of experts to work with them to solve these problems. The company gets to keep any of the Intellectual Property developed in the process of working together.

Dean Williams also said that Ohio State is home to the Ohio Manufacturing Institute, which “serves as a public policy mechanism for manufacturing within the state and nationally that facilitates the use of available technical resources for economic development.” He said, “OMI acts like a clearinghouse for Ohio to provide manufacturers with the tools they need to collaborate with a statewide network of technical resources. Its state and national policy recommendations reflect a thoughtful response to industry problems and issues OMI also engages in outreach programs that support manufacturers—from small to medium-size firms to original equipment manufacturers—by aligning with industries, academic institutions, technology support organizations and government.”

As an example, Dean Williams said, “We have had a long relationship with Honda since they moved to Marysville in 1978, which is about 45 miles northwest of here. About five years ago, we started partnering with Honda to help them develop solutions to some of their manufacturing problems. Their high-end NSX brand is currently made with advanced engineered materials and is produced at only a rate of 7-8 vehicles per day. They want to produce the Accord using the same materials and technology. At the Center, we have put together teams of experts to solve this problem.”

Dean Williams said, “Hundreds of students study abroad for part of the education. Their experience abroad strengthens their performance and helps train the people necessary to maintain and repair the machines. They are still lots of manufacturers in Ohio. We graduate about 2,000 engineers per year and about half of them stay in Ohio. There are 14 engineering colleges in Ohio, and we have the educational base to drive the 21st Century manufacturing.” Since the U.S. is only graduating about 50,000 engineers a year compared to the estimated 500,000 per year in China, Ohio State University is doing more than their fair share.

With regard to the next generation of manufacturing workers, he said, “A big part of the problem is that parents think manufacturing is like what it was in the past, so they don’t want their children to get involved in manufacturing. I was at SpaceX recently and met the chief welding engineer, and she was a graduate of Ohio State with a degree in welding. Young men and women can even get a Masters Degree in ‘joining’ through Ohio State’s online welding engineering master’s program: This discipline includes a deep understanding of the properties and testing of materials that can be welded.”

He said, “We are part of seven of the National Networks of Manufacturing Innovation (NNMIs). One of them is LIFT, which I looked up and found that it is “an industry-led, government funded consortium. By reimagining processes and procedures, the highly linked and leveraged network is facilitating technology transfer into supply chain companies and empowering the lightweight metals workforce.” Ohio State University, the University of Michigan in Detroit and EWI are the founding members of this NNMI consortium that was established February 25, 2014 following a competitive process led by the U.S. Department of Defense under the Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation (LM3I).

Dean Williams stated, “We also partner with the community colleges under an economic grant program to develop the existing workforce through continuing education. Overall, through a variety of programs and camps, we interact with 70-80 high schools on a semi-regular basis. One program is Hometown Ambassadors, where students talk to younger students at their High School alma maters to help them understand the opportunities in manufacturing today.”

Since Dean Williams is on the board of ASM International, it was fitting that Ohio State University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering hosted the ASM Education Foundation’s Materials Camps for two years (2013 and 2015). These one-week training camps provide the opportunity for high-school teachers to work hands-on with metals, ceramics, polymers and composites and learn how to incorporate these activities and demos into their science classes.

The Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT) was a partner with ASM International and the ASM Educational Foundation for the 2015 camp. “Curriculum content on the use of lightweight metals and new technologies [were] integrated into the programs at 45 camps around the nation…designed to enrich, stimulate and enhance the technical competence and teaching skills of middle and high school STEM teachers.”

Summer camps for teachers and students are important to attracting the next generation of manufacturing workers. More universities need to get involved with the summer camps and other programs of ASM International, the National Association of Manufacturers’ Manufacturing Institute “Dream it. Do it” program, and Project Lead the Way.

Advanced Technologies being developed at Carlsbad Gateway Center

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

For the last couple of years, I have been the guest of several economic and Chamber of Commerce organizations to visit their region to tour manufacturing plants and write articles about their region’s industries, but two weeks ago, I was invited to visit an industrial park right in my back yard ? the Carlsbad Gateway Center, a Makers’ place with over 80 businesses in a 16.5 acres business park (Carlsbad is 25 miles north of the City of San Diego).

Courtney Rose of Olive PR introduced me to Toni Adamopoulos, Property Mgr. of the business park. She said, “The tenant mix includes innovation, food production, health and wellness, new technology, in addition to standard and warehouse uses. The park’s small spaces, affordable rents, flexible zoning, and wide array of  allowed permitting makes it a perfect location for small, start up, and incubator businesses to get started on their road to success in a welcoming park-like setting. Besides technology companies, the zoning permits storefront businesses such as a bakery, coffee shop, craft beer, and Kombucha beverage.”

We first visited Emcraft Systems founded by Kent Meyer and colleagues in Moscow, Russia in 2012. Kent said, “We started the company six years ago to design, build, sell, and support ARM Cortex-A and Cortex-M System-On-Modules (SOMs), which are micro controller systems programmed with Linux.” Emcraft is a California LLC headquartered in Carlsbad, and with an engineering office in Moscow, near Moscow State University. Emcraft partners met in Silicon Valley in 1998 while working on a Posix real-time operating system, and the relationship has lasted across several companies and cities. Kent continued, “We have about 6,000 customers in 36 countries, all using our system on modules or Linux/uClinux kits. All of our manufacturing is done in the U.S. We use independent contractors instead of having employees, and we form teams to handle different projects for customers.”

He explained, “We are working to highly automate the effort of embedding Linux and ARM microcontrollers for the coming wave of intelligent systems. Our customers use our system on modules to speed their time to market, and we are optimizing the design and manufacturing processes to meet the pricing needs of the market. We have found a way to be very productive with our team of 20 local and remotely cooperating engineering contractors, with our main office and manufacturing based in the US.”

In addition to Emcraft Systems, Kent is involved in local STEAM education. He has worked with local schools and the Carlsbad Education Foundation (CEF) to teach robotics and programming to youth. CEF is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization that provides private support for public education programs throughout the Carlsbad Unified School District. The Foundation is also located in the Carlsbad Gateway Center.

We got into a discussion about attracting the next generation of engineers that is too long to cover in this article, but Meyer called the next generation the “Minecraft” generation because of the technological skills and interest learned through the online collaboration and building in that game. He started as a robotics coach over six years ago when his own kids were doing LEGO robotics with the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) for fourth to sixth graders, which was funded by the Carlsbad Ed Foundation. After doing that, he said, “We came up with our own little curriculum where the robotics could be used to teach interested kids in a very productive way, while also trying to find entrepreneurial ways to improve the ratio of students to technology to get as close to a one-to-one ratio with tech as possible.”

He said that they recently developed an “IoT Educational Platform” using Chromebooks, Linux, MQTT and Node-Red to see what kids might come up with when taught IoT concepts. The effort culminated in a presentation to the Carnegie Mellon SATURN conference in San Diego, where the kids showed a highly interactive MQTT platform of over 60 nodes all communicating and collaborating (robots, drones, lights, toys, etc) and connected to Skype and email over Node-Red. The effort won Kent and the team the distinction of “2016 Top Embedded Innovator” by Embedded Computing Design magazine. Click on this link to read the interview with Mr. Meyer after the award.

Next we met with Dr. Robert Boock, CEO/CTO and Co-Founder, of Glucovation. Dr. Boock previously served as the Senior Technical Director of Research and Development at Dexcom where he was responsible for managing the research and development of Dexcom’s CGM membranes and biotechnologies. He was part of the group that developed materials for Dexcom’s SEVEN PLUS. He was a co-inventor of G4 PLATINUM sensor and was a key player in its development and commercialization. He holds more than 44 patents and over 100 pending patents as well as having more than 25 peer reviewed journal articles.

Dr. Boock said, “Our company was formed to develop the most advanced Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) that will be affordable to those desiring to monitor their diabetes.” I have several partners, and we are now up to 12 people. They will realize development and work on licensing Agreements. We have signed a deal with a Chinese company and are negotiating a deal with another Chinese company.

He explained, “We are creating a technology that doesn’t require finger sticking. We are trying to develop a simpler but just as accurate method that doesn’t require any action by the user. We want to penetrate the Type II market, which is reaching epidemic proportions. Our product will prevent its escalation. We think that we will have the right product at the right time. Type I is 2% of the population, and Type II has escalated to an estimated 13% of the population. We would rather increase the breadth of our reach rather than make more profit. Outside the U.S., this epidemic of diabetes has the potential to bankrupt countries.”

He continued, “Dexcom and Medtronic are the two biggest players in the continuous monitoring field, which takes a reading every five minutes. They have only penetrated 15% of the Type I population. The future of Type I treatment will be the artificial pancreas (sensors within a pump).

He added, “We can also measure lactate which is a precursor to septic shock, and we could also monitor burning of ketones to know if a person is burning fat when exercising. We are developing a suite of sensors that will monitor five to six of the active metabolites.”

Finally, he said, “We are doing development in cooperation with our licensees, but we are the owner of the core technology. We should be moving into the Chinese market in 2018. The U. S. is more difficult because there is a PMA one-year review cycle after clinical trials, but in China it is only a six-month review cycle. We are doing trials in China, but haven’t started in the U. S. yet.”

Since I am aware of how long it takes to develop any biotech or medical device product before it finally gets to market, I found his last comment very apropos:  “We don’t do it for the money; it’s a calling.”

Our last meeting was with Martin Bouliane, founder and President of R&3D Engineering. He is a mechanical engineer who started his career in 1993 involved in product development. He worked with Cirque du Soleil for a while as a product designer. He was previously the owner of R&3D Engineering in Canada, where the company was primarily focused on consumer product design from 2000-2007. He moved from Quebec, Canada to California in 2007.

Bouliane said, “After moving to California, I worked for two medical device companies before re-launching R&3D Engineering as a U.S. company in 2012. The company was originally focused on medical device design, but some of my customers turned to me to help them get into production. I started working with robots that they purchased from Fanuc. A team from Fanuc visited our company and invited me to become an authorized Fanuc robot integrator. We now focus on custom robotic automation design and fabrication for about 75% of our business, and we have grown to a dozen employees.”

He added, “One of our biggest problems is finding skilled people as we need people who can make things work. We have a customer who makes desalination filters, and we started working with them two years ago and have designed a robot system to move the filters, which were heavy for workers to move around. Some of our local customers have been in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry for high volume production of disposables. We are creating a system for one company that dispenses oil, and are building machines to produce the blister pack for the oil.”

He explained, “One of the big reasons for advances in automation is that machine vision has become more and more advanced, so we can program the robots to do inline inspection. We also design and build the peripheral systems to surround the robots. The robot might be only 10% of the system, and we can configure the robot to do multiple tasks. More and more companies are benefiting from integrating robotics and automation into their manufacturing operations.”

This interview was eye opening to me because I had seen very little automation or use of robotics in local companies with which I do business. The main reason is that 97% of San Diego County Advanced Manufacturing businesses are companies with fewer than 50 employees. Another reason is that I do not do business with biotech companies as they do not buy the type of fabrication services I represent. I recruited Mr. Bouliane to speak at our upcoming March Tech San Diego Operations Roundtable event on the subject of the advances in robots, automation, Artificial Intelligence, and machine vision. He will also discuss the future of automation and robotics and give his opinion on whether jobs will be lost or created. There is a wide divergence of opinions on the answer to this question, so it will be interesting to hear his opinion.