Manufacturers to D.C.: Make Us a Can-Do Nation Again

President Obama has highlighted manufacturing in his past two State of the Union addresses. Two years ago, he cited an agenda that “begins with American manufacturing” as part of a broader “blueprint for an economy that’s built to last.” Last year, he reiterated manufacturing’s critical importance to economic recovery, stating, “Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.” Odds are, manufacturing will make another appearance this year, with familiar rhetoric that receives bipartisan applause. Unfortunately, rhetoric alone won’t get the job done. We need policymakers to do what manufacturers in the United States do every day: Make tough decisions that get results.

This year, we are issuing a challenge in advance of the State of the Union address. Over the next year, the president and Congress, in partnership with manufacturers and the entire private sector, must work together on a broad-based agenda to spur long-term economic growth and employment. If we do, we can:

  • Create more than 20,000 manufacturing jobs per month;
  • Grow industrial production by at least 4.5 percent annually; and
  • Grow the economy by at least 3.5 percent annually.

Here’s how we can do it:

Modernize Infrastructure: Manufacturers need a dynamic intermodal infrastructure system to replace the current one, which is badly outdated and seriously needs repair. Congress can begin to fix this by re-authorizing transportation funding to strengthen the nation’s surface transportation systems. And Obama can immediately advocate a fully funded, multi-year bill directing federal dollars to projects that will bring the highest local and national economic return.

Boost Exports: Manufacturers need actual policies that would help them enter and expand into new markets abroad. Although the president has championed the multiple economic benefits of exports, he should actively work with Congress to approve Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), so the administration and Congress can efficiently enact new trade agreements. The pending Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example, would significantly boost U.S. exports and add jobs, yet could stall in Congress without TPA.

Take Advantage of Abundant Domestic Energy: While the president often praises and claims much credit for today’s energy revolution, his administration has simultaneously issued and/or proposed obstacles that make it harder to tap abundant North American energy. The administration has proposed regulations that would drive down demand for energy resources, such as coal, and reduce development of coal and other sources. The administration has repeatedly prolonged the process to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, despite overwhelming evidence of the project’s economic benefits. Not only would the pipeline create thousands of direct and indirect jobs, but it would also safely transport a reliable source of energy from our ally Canada to the United States. As it stands now, both current and proposed energy policies put U.S. competitiveness at further risk.

Fix the Tax Code: Tax reform has been debated for years. It’s time to move from talking to acting and develop a proposal that can become law. It’s a simple choice. Either we adopt a streamlined, globally competitive tax system or we continue to lose ground to other nations with lower corporate tax rates. Comprehensive, modernized business tax reform, with lower rates for businesses large and small, will help all U.S. companies compete in the international marketplace. Tax reform is no easy task, but we can do it. If achieved, tax reform could be a primary pillar of President Obama’s legacy, as it was for Presidents Kennedy and Reagan.

Develop a 21st-Century American Workforce: Since more than 80 percent of manufacturers in the United States report a shortage of skilled workers, we need to make 21st-century training a national imperative so that current and future American workers can realize their full potential. We can do this through collaboration among business, government, education and nonprofits, each offering their unique strengths to close the skills gap. Obama has been a leader on this front — his Advanced Manufacturing Partnership is a strong initiative comprising stakeholders from diverse backgrounds. The National Association of Manufacturers-endorsed Skills Certification System, which helps individuals secure and employers recognize the skills needed to succeed in the manufacturing workforce, is another great model.

Manufacturers are ready to do our part. Despite pervasive economic uncertainty, we are fired up and ready to go. There are signs a lasting economic recovery is within reach. Securing that recovery, and once again storming ahead to greater prosperity, requires more than talk. America has always been a can-do nation, and we can do this. Working together, manufacturers, the administration and Congress can take bold steps and get the bold results our nation deserves.

CEOs may be interested in connecting with a dynamic group of manufacturing CEOs including Caterpillar’s Doug Oberhelman, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) president Jay Timmons and other experts at The 2014 Smart Manufacturing Summit to be held in partnership with Caterpillar in Peoria, IL on May 20 & 21. This extraordinary event, which includes an exclusive tour of one of Caterpillar’s manufacturing plants, brings together the thinkers and doers who are forging American manufacturing’s comeback story. (See

Doug Oberhelman is chairman and CEO of Caterpillar and chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers’ Board of Directors. Jay Timmons is president and CEO of NAM.