“Don’t let good science stand in the way of bad manufacturing policy.” That was the overarching (and seemingly tongue-in-cheek) theme of the recent 2013 Annual Washington Forum, organized by the National Association for Surface Finishing.
This year’s Forum drew the usual suspects—scores of concerned chemical suppliers, surface finishers, NASF representatives and industry leaders—all seeking to effect more favorable policy changes pertaining to both existing and impending regulations impacting surface preparation and plating processes and guidelines. In keeping with Washington Forum events of the past, this year’s program was loaded with several days of informative presentations and keynote speeches spanning a host of relevant manufacturing and environmental topics. NASF also facilitated top-level meetings between surface finishing industry players from around the country and their respective Representatives and Congressmen on Capitol Hill.
NASF’s messaging to Congress hinges on three distinct points:
1. The Administration should carefully assess the impact of new regulations on small business before imposing further regulatory burdens. Like many other industry sectors, the surface finishing sector is subject to inordinately high costs pertaining to environmental, health, and safety compliance. Despite the success of reducing releases and emissions over the past two decades, the regulatory burden on the surface finishing industry continue to mount.
“This industry has a great history of working with environmental groups,” said Jeff Hannapel, executive vice president of The Policy Group (the governmental action arm of the NASF). “One of the most frustrating issues for us is, some of the environmental groups won’t even sit down with us.”
2. Congress is encouraged to support manufacturing in America by promoting workforce development, job training, recruitment, and placement programs. Surface finishing companies continue to face challenges recruiting qualified employees. Data show that 600,000 skilled manufacturing jobs are currently unfilled, with 2.7 million manufacturing employees expected to retire in 10 years. NASF believes advanced technical training and education are critical to the future of manufacturing in America. To that end, the Federal Government needs to demonstrate its commitment to maintaining and strengthening the manufacturing base in the U.S.
“Many decision-makers in Washington don’t grasp the connection between a healthy U.S. manufacturing base and the overall economy,” said Richard McCormack, editor of Manufacturing & Technology News, during his closing presentation: U.S. Manufacturing Competitiveness—Manufacturing a Better Future for America. “If you don’t have an industrial base, you don’t have anything.”
One strategy entails working with government in support of training programs that encourage recruitment early on during students’ development. So says Omar Nashashibi of the Franklin Partnership. During his presentation, The Small Manufacturing Agenda on Capitol Hill—NASF/Precision Metalforming Association Collaboration, he said his organization has been working with industry and parents to target K-12 pipeline recruitment, with an emphasis on training and placement. Nashashibi also suggested employing these talking points for finishers when they’re in front of their government representatives: “ ’Help me get my message out’ as opposed to ’please support this program.’ ” He also strongly encouraged finishers to Invite their Congressmen and Representatives on a tour of their manufacturing facilities.
Another effective strategy entails fighting fires with facts. During his presentation, Environmental Policy & Small Business: A Capitol Hill Perspective, the National Association of Manufacturers’ Rosario Palmieri offered this eye-opening tidbit: “Manufacturing has the highest multiplier effect than other sectors of the economy!”
3. The Federal Government needs to simplify the tax code, manage its costs, and balance the budget to support and sustain manufacturing. Under current law, inconsistent tax preferences and continuous tax code changes hinder the ability of businesses to make any meaningful plans while continuing to raise their costs of compliance. Small-business owners—and many metal finishing companies fall into this category—overwhelmingly agree that the tax code is too complex and requires major revisions. Many business owners agree that higher taxes cannot serve as the primary means to reduce the national debt, which, as of this month, stands at more than $16.8 trillion. Many small businesses are calling for the adoption of at least a 3-to-1 ratio of spending cuts over tax increases to reduce the deficit.
These points were driven home by Andy Friedman of The Washington Update, during his opening keynote address to Washington Forum attendees. “Uncertainty regarding tax laws makes planning very difficult,” he said, referencing last year’s embarrassing episode regarding the so-called “Fiscal Cliff.” Fiscal compromise, he believes, did not fix or lower personal tax rate, nor did it immediately reduce spending. “You cannot address our budget problems by only cutting discretionary spending—you have to get to the entitlements. You can’t get there on taxes alone.”
For the foreseeable future, NASF’s top legislative priorities will key on regulations, taxes, spending, healthcare, and, above all, advancing a sustainable future. The key to success, according to Christian Richter, NASF executive vice president, hinges on cultivating relationships with policy-makers on the federal level. “We have to ensure that Washington helps, not hurts,” he said.
For more on the 2013 Washington Forum, look out for the May/June dual edition of Metal Finishing.