NAM’s politics shortchange small manufacturers

By Bart Taylor | Mar 05, 2018

Things are good for America's large manufacturers, says Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Timmons borrowed an Olympic metaphor last month to proclaim that manufacturing is "going for the gold," pleased as he is with the trifecta of regulatory relief, lower tax rates, and a proposed $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, courtesy of President Trump.

His elation is understandable given the high confidence level of his membership and newfound influence in the White House. Timmons picked sides, and his affection for President Trump is as well documented as his enmity for his predecessor.

But of all the reasons to be enthusiastic about manufacturing, and there are many, government's stewardship of the manufacturing economy should excite Timmons the least. Sure, it's NAM's job to move public policy in favor of manufacturing. Yet NAM's responsibility is to companies large and small, across diverse industries, and it's an open question as to whether the vast community of small and middle-market companies are feeling the love. The celebration seems premature.

Today channeling Trump also means: supporting tariffs that may raise materials costs for manufacturers and diminish already thin supply-chain options; abandoning trade agreements altogether; diminished environmental stewardship, important to emerging manufacturing sectors like outdoor industry; uncertainty and confrontation in immigration, healthcare, and the emerging cannabis market; and outright hostility to business defying the NRA.

Companies will navigate America's diverse business and cultural ecosystem to find the state or region that best fits their own operating values. Celebrating public policy that works to lift all of American manufacturing is a meaningful role for NAM, including advocacy for policy initiatives specific to the needs of small manufacturers:

  • Immigration reform, including a long-term resolution of the DREAMer crisis and targeted increases in immigration levels in manufacturing-related sectors
  • Compromise and agreement on healthcare reform that incorporates the best components from bipartisan discussions
  • Reducing -- not expanding -- import restrictions and tariffs on targeted raw material categories to enhance local and regional supply chains
  • Supply chain engineering to enable communities to recruit and retain manufacturing industry
  • Engagement on global climate-change initiatives
  • Comprehensive cannabis legislative reform including a short path to banking and financial service for industry companies

Becoming just another partisan player in the polarized milieu in Washington, D.C. is a dead end for NAM and the small manufacturers it supports. Time to widen its purview.

Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach him at