President Trump released a list early last week of 28 prominent business leaders who will advise him on manufacturing growth.
Trump’s American Manufacturing Council includes CEOs from a wide range of companies such as Dell, Whirlpool, Ford, Dow, Harris Corp., Merck & Co., Johnson & Johnson, Lockheed Martin, GE, Intel, AFL-CIO, Boeing, Campbell Soup Co., Caterpillar, 3M and Corning.
While many CEOs have been outspoken against Trump and have expressed concern about his strategies and actions, Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris said that Trump is “not going to do anything to harm competitiveness.” He also noted that fair trade is a key for U.S.-based multinationals to succeed on a global scale. He doesn’t believe in unbalanced trade and feels “we have an opportunity with President Trump to put in place the rules that level the playing field.”
Liveris said that Dow is investing in a new state-of-the-art innovation center in Michigan, and he credited Trump with creating a business climate that energized his company. Trump said he believes he can cut regulations by 75 percent or more.
Peter Van Doren, an economist with the Cato Institute said growth is more about “signaling” and probably is going to be “somewhere in the moderate to small range.” Trump also feels his protectionist measures and trade agreement renegotiations would help boost American manufacturing.
Meanwhile, the executives on the council, who will report to Trump’s Commerce Secretary (Wilbur Ross is the current nominee), will return to the White House at the end of February with their suggestions on how to grow American manufacturing. After the last meeting, Liveris told CNBC that with two-thirds of their R&D and manufacturing stateside, and as a major exporter, it is an “exciting moment” to sit “elbow-to-elbow” with the president to promote fair trade. “We have unlevel playing fields on investment policies around the world where U.S. companies cannot invest the same as local companies,” said Liveris.
Among tech executives, Tesla’s Elon Musk has been one of the most visible with the Trump administration. Musk recently tweeted his optimism around Secretary of State Pick Rex Tillerson and met with Trump earlier in the week. Musk also belongs to Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum which advises him on economic matters.
Some CEOs have earned places on the council despite past statements. For instance, Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of unions, called Trump “racist” and “anti-American” during the campaign. He later praised Trump for withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that union groups strongly opposed.
Merrill Matthews, resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas, said innovation, not protectionism, will grow American manufacturing. He feels if the U.S. is to expand its manufacturing base, it won’t be because a few decades-old companies decided not to export jobs, it will be because of a focus on creating new jobs with new technologies. Matthews points to 3D printing, private sector space exploration, innovative drill techniques and cutting-edge industries as a means to revival. Matthews also said reforming the corporate income tax system is “crucial” and that lowering the corporate tax rate will do more to create jobs than tariffs or restrictions.
“If Trump focuses on these reforms, rather than punitive tariffs, he’ll stand a good chance of rejuvenating American manufacturing,” said Matthews.