Former Michigan Gov. John Engler, who now leads a national manufacturers' group, was full of praise for Indiana's support for manufacturers. However, he used that praise mainly as a counterpoint to his criticism of federal policy that he said impedes business.
Engler was in Fort Wayne on Thursday to speak to a lunch meeting of the Economic Club of Indiana at the Grand Wayne Convention Center. He told the hundreds in the audience that Gov. Mitch Daniels' emphasis on making Indiana a good environment for business is responsible for much of the state's “success relative to other states, especially when compared with my old home state of Michigan, which is in a world of hurt.”
Engler, a Republican, was Michigan governor from 1991 to 2003. In 2004, he became president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Manufacturers.
In particular, he said Daniels' quick response in cutting spending as revenues fell, as well as Daniels' emphasis on trying to improve vocational training, align well with his view of how government should encourage manufacturing.
“Your governor's priorities dovetail nicely with manufacturing across the United States,” he said.
He said manufacturing nationally is continuing a slow recovery from the depth of the recession, but he said a vigorous recovery of that crucial sector in the American economy won't be cemented until consumer demand rebounds, business investment picks up and exports increase.
As he explained, manufacturing is a still a mainstay of American business. The U.S. produces 21 percent of the world's output of manufactured goods.
“We are still far and away the greatest manufacturing economy in the world,” Engler said.
He disparaged national lawmakers as much as he praised Daniels. Many officeholders in Washington, he said, “love jobs, but have little regard for job providers.”
Recalling Michigan businesses' suffering in the last deep recession, he said unemployment reached about 17 percent there in 1982. However, as the state emerged from that recession nearly 30 years ago, it faced much less foreign competition than today.
“Global competition is fierce, and we face it every day,” he said, noting the competitive power of the European Union, China and emerging industrial powers such as Brazil and India.
Among Engler's suggestions for ways federal and state governments could strengthen manufacturing:
• Improving the infrastructure needed by industry.
• Enacting a permanent tax credit for research and development to support innovation.
• Maintaining relatively low levels of taxation.