“An advanced manufacturing policy is what this country must have,” says Andrew N. Liveris, the chairman and chief executive of Dow Chemical, arguing, in effect, that manufacturing needs government support to expand its dwindling share of the nation’s economy. That is particularly so when demand for new products like solar shingles and batteries is not yet enough to justify the investment. (Three solar companies recently filed for bankruptcy.) Mr. Liveris, 57, himself a chemical engineer and co-chairman of President Obama’s newly formed Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, a group of outside advisers, would even “pick winners” — that is, select some manufacturers for continuing support. “I would not let free markets rule without also addressing what I want manufacturing to be 20 or 30 years from now,” he says.
As multinationals place factories abroad, they are putting research centers near them, with as-yet-undetermined consequences. At the very least, this trend challenges the view that the United States has the best scientists and research centers and is thus the research-and-development pacesetter.
From China, Dow Chemical now exports products invented at its research center near Shanghai. “Overseas,” Mr. Liveris said, “I get tax incentives, and I get incentives to go to certain locations where they offer us utilities, infrastructure and land. I get access to human capital. I get all sorts of support to help train that human capital.”
Against that backdrop, he and a few other top executives of multinationals exhort the Obama administration and Congress to grant incentives and subsidies intended to halt the 60-year decline in manufacturing’s contribution to national income. Mr. Liveris recently published a book on the subject. He says vigorous government support, like the subsidies that Dow receives for its solar roof shingle operation and the electric battery factory, might eventually halt manufacturing’s slide. But he adds that his company and others will not embark on a reverse migration, a significant “in-shoring” of what has already moved abroad. Too many consumers are concentrated today in Asia and Europe.
“We put things overseas,” Mr. Liveris says, “because markets were growing there and we wanted to be close to them, and that will never change.”What do I read from this? Well, today, I'm a cynic. I hear 3 things:
- What we have moved overseas isn't coming back.
- If you want me to keep jobs here, you'll have to pay my company.
- When I was talking about paying chemists well, I was referring to global markets, not the US.