The call for dramatic improvements in America’s infrastructure as a critical driver in the reestablishment of the nation’s manufacturing supremacy is building momentum. But that’s only part of the story. Lost is the real correlation between manufacturing, infrastructure development and America’s domestic national security. Despite the emphasis on the economic impact that infrastructure development will have on manufacturing, the U.S. will someday face much more serious domestic challenges that manufacturers are uniquely positioned to address today. Manufacturers and companies involved in infrastructure development are on the front lines of the nation’s effort to improve our emergency preparedness in times of natural disasters and terrorist attacks. All efforts to develop a more permanent solution to our infrastructure and our emergency preparedness must include the significant participation of manufacturers, as noted in A Decaying National Infrastructure is Challenging the Resurgence of American Manufacturing.
There is virtually zero disagreement or misunderstanding over the role infrastructure plays as American domestic manufacturers continue to push the nation’s economic engine. However, there is little awareness that the manufacturing and infrastructure development industries play a critical role in ensuring that the inevitable natural disasters and universally expected future terrorist attacks on the homeland can be mitigated by the efforts of both economic sectors. The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) clearly understands how critical it is to have a strong manufacturing base, coupled with an infrastructure that is designed for the challenges of the 21st Century. DHS prominently highlights critical manufacturing sectors that harden America’s ability to defend and respond to threats and disasters on our homeland. The federal agency cites, among other industries, iron and steel, aluminum, power transmission equipment, aviation and aerospace product and parts, and railroad rolling stock manufacturing as critical elements to the nation’s security.
Although the nation’s policymakers are not remaining idle on infrastructure, manufacturing or emergency preparedness, it is clear that they have no long-term comprehensive plans on these critical issues. Recently, Congress reached an agreement to temporarily stave off an impending crisis by extending the Highway Trust Fund’s solvency until May 2015. Failure to do so would have resulted in a financing crisis that would have halted countless infrastructure projects, thereby further delaying America’s much-needed push towards a more modernized infrastructure complex. The $11 billion stop-gap measure passed by Congress is intended to keep infrastructure projects on schedule. Similarly on the manufacturing side, Congress has also only temporarily reauthorized the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank). The Ex-Im Bank is critical to the nation’s manufacturers, as it facilitates the exportation of domestically manufactured goods. While both extensions are positive, these temporary fixes do not provide the long-term certainty and predictability that the manufacturing and construction industries need in order to develop forward-thinking business plans.
A national movement is needed, as it will be America’s manufacturers that will produce the chemicals, vehicles, protective gear, weapons, measuring devices, medicines and countless other products that will be used to prevent catastrophic events from becoming cataclysmic ones. This vital role is why it is critically important that manufacturers view government as a partner, rather than an adversary. Manufacturers should vigorously pursue public contracts, and help conceptualize other proposals designed to further our national interests. And, when not pursuing or proposing contracts, manufacturers must become involved in the political process at the federal, state and local levels of government. The nation’s manufacturers cannot afford to serve as passive observers. They must lead the advocacy effort to ensure that America remains prepared for its challenges, while maintaining its rightful place in the world. And as the old D.C. adage states: “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” America’s manufacturers: what say you?
This post also appears on the blog of the Manufacturing Leadership Council, of which Foley & Lardner is a member.