By: Bill Groh & Kelly de la Torre Issue: Vision Section: Business
An Interview with Deborah L. Wince-Smith
Deborah L. Wince-Smith, president and CEO of the Council on Competitiveness (the Council) is a true advocate working to create the necessary market conditions for America’s industry to regain its position as a leader in global markets. The Council was founded in 1986 to address the reasons why America was losing industrial market share to other countries. The Council identified that advances in technology, globalization and challenges to energy sustainability created a different playing field for America’s industry and that American companies needed to make changes to remain competitive. These issues are critical to America’s competitiveness and “we must not surrender,” urges Wince-Smith. “America’s economic portfolio requires a healthy and growing manufacturing sector to tackle the grand macroeconomic problems facing the country, like job creation, debt reduction and infrastructure investments.”
Wince-Smith spearheads a national strategic initiative to promote continued U.S. economic growth in an increasingly competitive global economy. In spite of today’s troubling crisis of economic confidence, and the uneasy notion that American business and industry will soon be outmaneuvered by those in countries such as India and China, it is her position that America can meet these challenges head-on through a national collaborative effort to draw upon America’s unique and greatest resource — innovation.
The Council’s initiatives focus on the premise that American industry must innovate to stay competitive in a global economy. Instead of attempting to slug it out with low labor cost factories overseas that produce basic goods, American industry should refocus on creating cutting-edge products that satisfy the consumer’s needs and wants in new and innovative ways. In 2004, Wince-Smith spearheaded the groundbreaking National Innovation Initiative (NII), which played a pivotal role in creating a reinvigorated U.S. competitiveness movement. The NII brought together private and public sector leaders at all levels of business and government to develop a private-sector driven innovation agenda, helping to shape the bipartisan America COMPETES Act, creating state and regional innovation initiatives, and bringing a global focus to innovation.
The Council has recently published Make: An American Manufacturing Movement, a call to action to unleash America’s manufacturing potential. “Manufacturing transcends political ties and ideological boundaries. It is a cornerstone of American independence, economic prosperity, and national security that we must not surrender,” advocates Wince-Smith and the Council. The report outlines a strategy that focuses on four key factors: talent, technology, investment and infrastructure. As these factors interconnect to drive renewed American competitiveness, a key part of the Council’s mission has been to recognize the ripple-effect that energy efficiency and innovation can have.
“Energy, really, is everything. It’s the lifeblood of the economy. It cuts across every activity, it also has a huge impact on how we make things, how we transport things, how we use things, and, quite frankly, that has been true since the beginning of human civilization. So the innovation machine that we need to stimulate, grow, and maintain in this country is more important than ever, given the challenges of climate change, environmental stewardship, and scarcity as well,” says Wince-Smith.
The manufacturing sector uses approximately one-third of the energy consumed in the United States. It is critical to competitiveness that manufacturing firms have access to low-cost, dependable energy supply. According to Wince-Smith and the Council, “The United States needs a system that develops domestic energy resources—renewable, traditional or otherwise—along with efficiency efforts, to achieve energy security. The transmission grid currently wastes a third of energy produced.” To achieve energy security for our manufacturing sector we need to invest in infrastructure and we need to diversify our energy portfolio. “The Council does not believe there is a single solution to providing abundant, secure, clean and reasonably priced energy.”
Natural gas, however, has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing in the United States. Natural gas is playing an increasingly important role in addressing the needs of manufacturing in the United States. Technological advances to extract natural gas are creating increased opportunities for production, job creation, and to address our energy security. “We use natural gas not only as a source of electricity, but as a feedstock for products such as plastics, fertilizer and pharmaceuticals. Affordable natural gas provides manufacturers with the ability to expand their facilities, increase production and create even more jobs,” says Wince-Smith and the Council.
Access to low cost and reliable energy is critical to the manufacturing sector and to our success as a nation. According to the Council, abundant supply and low prices for gas have allowed some energy intensive manufacturers to expand facilities and have even allowed companies to substitute coal for gas and save millions of dollars a year. “In order to fully capture the economic benefits of shale gas production, a balanced regulatory regime and enforcement capability needs to be established that ensures best practices to protect water supplies, while not hampering development,” advocates Wince-Smith and the Council. Cleaner energy supplies of this magnitude could be a game changer, but a comprehensive approach is still necessary. One energy source alone is not enough to address industry’s energy challenges or to reverse the trade deficit.
The Council’s comprehensive approach to the energy question starts with promoting a regulatory scheme designed to promote energy efficiency. “Energy competitiveness begins with energy efficiency and the creation of legal and regulatory environments that reward it. The way our utilities are structured, they do not reward consumer or end-use efficiency.” Beyond efficiency, developing smart, sustainable, and resilient energy supply is about cultivating multiple energy sources and helping to break down artificial cost barriers by pursuing a national transmission superhighway. “We were very, very purposeful in not picking winners and losers in energy sources, but what we argue and continue to argue is we have to use a portfolio of energy sources in a way that meets demand, rewards efficiency, and provides competitive cost advantage for U.S. industry and U.S. consumers.”
Wince-Smith contends that America must address state and regional regulatory barriers that prevent the national use of regional energy resources. In fact, with the implementation of a national transmission superhighway, regional power sources such as wind energy could be used nationally, distributing surplus energy from one region to another where such power is not available. Innovation itself, however, requires greater capital investment not just in the development of new technologies, but in the infrastructure necessary to implement them. Wince-Smith argues that the United States can encourage much of this investment by modifying its corporate tax structure. “By eliminating double-taxation and allowing the repatriation of foreign earnings, we can take the trillions of dollars in profits that are sitting outside of the United States produced by U.S. enterprises, and get some of that money back into this country to invest in our own infrastructure.” Without such domestic investment, cutting-edge technology innovations are implemented overseas where greater capital investment is available.
Development of domestic energy technology is also tied to job growth, including not just research and development, but highly technical jobs which do not necessarily require a four year college degree. Training the next generation of highly skilled workers involves harmonizing the curriculums of high schools, vocational schools, and four-year colleges with the specific needs of emerging high-tech industries, through programs that emphasize problem-solving, mentoring, partnering with local industry, and initiatives that can provide students with hands-on experience. With such training and opportunities, American industry and manufacturing can recruit and develop the workforce necessary to implement the technology and infrastructure capable of leading the way to renewed American competitiveness in the 21st century.
Wince-Smith notes that while the Council’s work is at the forefront of President Obama’s agenda as noted in the recent State of the Union Address. She urges, “We must aggressively pursue policies that ensure America remains a global manufacturing destination. We support the President’s intentions, but stress that some of his proposals need to more fully recognize the realities of the global marketplace. The Council stands ready, and we are well-positioned to work with the Administration, Congress, and other key stakeholders to ensure America’s enduring leadership in global manufacturing.”
The Council on Competitiveness’ latest publication, Make. An American Manufacturing Movement, is available on the Council’s website at http://www.compete.org/about-us/initiatives/manufacturing.
ALG | Attorneys understand the solutions that advanced energy can bring to the military, the U.S. government and our nation. Bill Groh, Kelly de la Torre and the ALG team are working to bring together partners from various industry sectors and government to identify barriers to implementation and encourage dialogue and consensus on industry solutions. To find out about ALG | Attorneys and how ALG can help bring your company’s energy solutions to these discussions contact or Kelly de la Torre at 720-536-4600 or please go to www.antonlaw.com.