From the Shop Floor — The Week in Manufacturing (2/24/2012)

Yes, it’s still mid-winter.  Yes, the now-off colored white stuff is still hanging in there tenaciously (and, in fact, as I write this if you’re in the Midwest like me you’re being pelted even today by inch after inch of wet, thick heavy, slushy snow).  And yes, each morning I’m still just as likely to turn on the seat warmers in my car as not. 

But it’s the third week of February.  Pitchers and catchers have now reported.  And spring training games start in just a few short days.  So, hang in there my friends.  Warmer, brighter and longer days are just around the corner.

In the world of manufacturing this week, Daimler, clearly looking to take advantage of the largest and fastest growing vehicle-buying market in the world, signed a billion dollar partnership deal with a Chinese truck manufacturer.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the coin, Chinese auto manufacturers — just a short few years after a similar foray failed — have started investing in a number of European counties, hoping to widen their global footprints.

And speaking of auto manufacturers, Chrysler announced this week they will not be pursuing $7 billion in federal loans for the development of more fuel-efficient trucks.  They can cry about too much government intervention all they want, there’s something about this announcement still smells a little bit like the kind of short-sighted thinking that got Detroit in trouble in the first place.

Banging on a drum I’ve been beating on for well over a year in this very space, the Washington Post details America’s shortage of skilled factory workers.  And apparently the Des Moines Register couldn’t agree more.  Heck, even a tiny trade publication called Employee Benefit News couldn’t help but pick up the trumpet of declining jobs skills and give it a good blow.

Here’s a fascinating look at how tariffs designed to protect an industry in one country — in this case the U.S. solar panel industry — is far more complicated than simple nationalism, which in today’s global marketplace is becoming a concept as quaint and as outmoded as nickel candy bars, rumble seats and Sunday blue laws.

As evidenced by both a number of recent speeches and this week’s radio address, President Obama will continue to use manufacturing as one of his major campaign themes over the next few months.

Another presidential candidate, Republican Rick Santorum, ran this opinion piece in this week’s Detroit News detailing his idea of lower taxes on manufacturing as a way of triggering an even greater turnaround in the U.S. economy.

And one blogger, while recognizing the well-intentioned nature of the Obama Administration’s strategy for a U.S. manufacturing renaissance, calls the plan “timid” and claims it won’t get the job done.

The U.S. News and World Report, meanwhile, claims that if American manufacturers keeps their jobs, President Obama will keep his.

Forgive the fact this item reads more like an advertorial for the manufacturing sector than a hard news piece.  But hey, it’s an AP story, so I’m going with it.

In CNN Money, Tuft University professor Michael Klein of the Brookings Institute says that manufacturing is not some sort of magic pill for this country’s ongoing economic woes.

And in the Huffington Post, blogger Jared Bernstein says we should help the U.S. manufacturing sector, but not too much.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says the term “Made in Georgia” really means something these days.

Trying not to rain on anyone’s parade or be anyone’s idea of a good old fashioned buzzkill, MarketWatch cautions, the “U.S. Economy is Stronger, But…”

Fellow blogger Mark J. Perry offers this Quote of the Day on U.S. manufacturing.

Robert Reich, an otherwise intelligent man whose heart, brain and soul often seem mired in the ideals that once defined the now-passe U.S. Communist movement, rants about how this country’s workers are not getting wealthy as a result of the turnaround of this country’s manufacturing sector. 

Among the many things that Reich fails to take into account in his somewhat predictable essay are the increased use of computers and automation in manufacturing these days, the globalization of both the labor workforce and seller’s marketplace, the increasing demands for greater factory job skills, and the ongoing downward pressure from off-shore locales on U.S. labor wages. 

Nothing exists in a vacuum, except perhaps Mr. Reich’s outmoded vision of the American worker’s place in this new global marketplace that we’re all trying to learn to navigate.

And finally, ABC News this week offered a rare glimpse into what has become to many an infamous relationship between Apple and notoriously results-driven Chinese electronics manufacturer, Foxconn.  (And already, according to the New York Times, this kind of global media exposure seems to have triggered some change and at least some level of improvement in worker pay and workplace conditions at Foxconn.)

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