I See No Mountains

By Tom Murray

I was reading a front page article in the September 8, 2012 edition of the Baltimore Sun in which a chief economist with the National Association of Manufacturers was quoted as saying that “manufacturing has really come to a bit of a standstill at this point in time.” Others opined that the trend lines have been down for manufacturing.

Interestingly, I had just finished reading another article on manufacturing with a different slant — this one from Forbes on September 4, 2012. This article focused on the resurgence of manufacturing and posed an interesting question: “Public-Private Partnerships – Are they the ‘Secret Sauce’ to a Resurgence in American Manufacturing?” This article suggests that it may be “the more advanced energy manufacturing and additive manufacturing that might produce this resurgence and that collaborative public-private partnerships have emerged as an important component in this new era of American manufacturing.”

We could look at these opinions as a classic example of whether the glass is half empty or half full. If half empty, it is a slumping story for American manufacturing. If half full, it is an opportunity to engage in bold and persistent experimentation leading to a resurgence in manufacturing. In either case, whether we are government, academic or business, it is our shared responsibility to find solutions that work.

I am encouraged by public-private initiatives like the E3 (Economy, Energy and the Environment) framework where several federal agencies are working together and with American communities and manufacturers to fine-tune manufacturing and encourage growth along with improved environmental performance. The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program is searching outside normal channels to find solutions for an unmet technological need. Public-private partnerships have the tools and the know-how.

During my career, I have had the privilege of visiting many small to medium-sized manufacturers. I have always been impressed with their dogged determination and resilience. Today, they need expertise more than ever and we need to find the most effective ways of getting it to them.

I am reminded of the lyrics from a popular Neil Diamond tune: “Put a mountain there and I’ll tear it down. If it is too high, I’ll go around.” Or perhaps a more suitable metaphor comes from the late and great humanitarian and civil rights leader, Leon Sullivan, who was wont to say, “I see no mountains.”

Let’s get it done.

To learn more, visit www.E3.gov.

About the author: Tom Murray joined EPA way back in 1971 and has never lost the passion for pollution prevention and helping manufacturers become more sustainable.