I am not an economist. I don’t even play one on TV. I’m just a small business owner who’s spent his life in the most important sector in this economy.I am, in other words, a manufacturer.Yet when I hear President Trump dusting off the Laffer Curve, trafficking in 80’s-era supply-side rhetoric, and proposing tax reforms that recall the days of trickle-down prosperity and “voodoo” economics, it gives me real pause.
But, as I said, I’m not an economist and have no intention of debating the subject with you today. Instead – and given that our president has made it clear he wants to do whatever possible to help U.S. manufacturing – let me offer four suggestions to Mr. Trump, all of which would help me greatly as both a businessman and a manufacturer.
1. Rebuild America
It’s not as sexy to call it fixing our infrastructure, but the idea’s the same. Let’s rebuild America. There’s no sector of the economy more reliant on the strength and efficiency of our national supply chain than manufacturing (a chain, by the way, now solely reliant on miles of crumbling roads, bridges, tunnels, pipes, rail tracks and power lines).
And while Candidate Trump made some wild promises in pursuit of the presidency, one, in particular, that he made continues to have merit. So much so, that President Trump would do well to not only hold onto Candidate Trump’s promise, but act on it.
Yes, it will cost trillions to reimagine and reconstruct the backbone of our economy. But those dollars would prove to be money, not so much spent on construction, but invested in U.S. manufacturing’s future.
Tens of thousands of displaced and underemployed American workers would find jobs, along with a real sense of purpose. Hard dollars would start moving again among those ever-challenged workers who make up our ever-threatened middle class.
But more than anything, manufacturers like me would save billions in waste, downtime and inefficiency, allowing us to be more competitive abroad.
2. Reduce Tariffs
The president, for as much as he’s travelled overseas, and for all his ties to the global community, seems strangely unaware of globalization.
Today’s world marketplace has grown radically smaller. International borders, especially for multinational conglomerates (but even for small businesses like mine), represent not so much barriers to be overcome, as markets to enter and growth opportunities to be leveraged.
Imposing tariffs in an attempt to manipulate the trade balance, while noble in its intent, would be both short-sighted and dangerous. Globalization is here. And, if the wisdom of the marketplace has its say, it’s not going away anytime soon.
To deny that, or to try to breathe life into the inflammatory, populist rhetoric that got Mr. Trump swept into office, would constitute economic suicide of the highest order.
Large manufacturers would be hurt. But small ones like me could be devastated. New tariffs would invariably trigger return fire from countries across the globe, and put much of our new revenue at risk, while giving many of our current international customers the perfect excuse to start looking for a new supplier.
In fact, the best way to ensure even greater demand for American-made brands and products in the global arena would be for the president to do the opposite; reduce tariffs significantly, if not eliminate them altogether.
3. Increase Green Energy Tax Credits
If President Trump knows anything, he knows the power of a carefully crafted brand name. Heck, his very presidency is living testament of the power of a strong brand name.
Yet, to embrace the carbon-intensive, 19th Century fuel sources he has – coal and oil, especially – is not only bad decision-making, it’s horrifically bad brand management.
The world marketplace is getting cleaner and greener all the time, fueled by a new generation of upwardly mobile consumers who are younger, more environmentally aware, and in pursuit of what might be called sustainable harmony with the planet.
And goods and services that play on that dynamic, while embracing clean fuel sources, are ones that will continue to steal market share from their archaic, carbon-intensive competitors.
And should U.S. goods suddenly begin to carry the global taint of environmental irresponsibility in developing markets like China and India, not to mention more mature ones like South America and the EU, we manufacturers will suffer – because the Made in America brand we’ve leveraged to expand our businesses will quickly start to stand for something rapidly growing out of favor in the global marketplace.
Like tariffs, the president should do the opposite of something on which he ran. His coal industry/campaign rhetoric notwithstanding, he should impose meaningful tax credits for manufacturers trading in (and reliant on) clean and renewable energy sources.
Believe me, that’s the kind of branding message that will resonate with the newest and most upwardly mobile consumers around the globe. And that will help U.S. manufacturing in the very way promoting dirty, unsustainable fuels like coal will help disembowel it.
4. Pursue Sensible Immigration Reform
One thing President Trump seems to have done is learn on the job. That, as much as anything, is likely why he’s softened his stance on so many issues that not too long ago he wielded like a bloody sword.
Take immigration reform, and especially something called the H-1B visa, a specialty work permit designed to allow U.S. companies to engage and employ highly skilled foreign workers – such as technicians, engineers, and computer geeks.
And, yes, some companies indeed exploit the H-1B visa and use it to underpay workers. The majority, however, including many manufacturers, use it to fill critical positions that may otherwise go unfilled for lack of qualified candidates.
And until American workers get up to speed and rededicate themselves as a group to learning the skills necessary to get a good job in today’s manufacturing, the H-1B visa will remain a critical manufacturing tool. It will not only allow U.S. factories to seek and find the best and brightest workers, but it will help us recruit the most talented foreign students as they earn degrees from U.S. colleges.
What’s more, there is likely not a manufacturer in America who does not have at least one valued (and, perhaps, longtime) employee who wouldn’t be deeply impacted by a blanket, by-the-numbers deportation of undocumented immigrants.
I urge the president to think long and hard about that, and what it might mean to American manufacturers, large and small.
Yes, this country needs immigration reform. And, yes, the sooner that reform happens, the quicker we can put the issue behind us and get on with the business of America – which, as we all know, is business.
But, as a manufacturer, I urge President Trump to consider the possibility that, just like so many of the issues he embraced on the campaign trail – and just like the issues at the heart of these four suggestions – the cure he suggested could turn out to be deadlier than the disease.