The World Manufacturing Forum aims to help boost the position of the Western world in global manufacturing.
I am this week attending a conference in Stuttgart, Germany, on -- wait for this -- manufacturing. The World Manufacturing Forum, as the name suggests, is an international event, but the organizers aren't shy at all about one of its key goals, which is to actively promote and encourage a manufacturing industry in the heart of Europe.
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The event is heavily sponsored and championed by Germany's Greater Stuttgart Region, and one of the welcome addresses will be delivered on Tuesday by Thomas Bopp, chairman of the regional assembly. The first address will be delivered by Fred-Holger Günther, chairman of the World Manufacturing Forum. In a statement on its Website, the Forum elucidated its goals:
This year's World Manufacturing Forum aims to facilitate an effective dialogue between business and government leaders and explore challenges for manufacturing innovation in the context of policy makers' options. Speakers will talk about global business concerns, the management of strategic resources and how governments can support global manufacturing innovation by increasing the sustainability of business operations and by lowering the risk of conflicts through effective dialogue and international S&T cooperation.
That sounds clear enough, but there's another stream of concern flowing beneath the lofty goals of aligning global corporate and government strategies in manufacturing. In my opinion, the forum is also meant to help boost the position of the Western world in global manufacturing as China and Southeast Asian nations continue to pull in foreign factories in droves, resulting in the hollowing of many previous producer nations' industrial heartlands.
Stuttgart's location and its economic history intertwine with the fortunes of Germany. The city is right on the Neckar River and is home to some of the world's better known manufacturers, including Porsche and Daimler AG. The region is a manufacturing powerhouse for the automotive industry, but concerns have risen in recent months as the global economy, and especially sections of the European Union, have continued to reel under fiscal and debt burdens.
A visit to any hardware or retail outlet in the United States and many major European cities will drive home the often unpleasant reality facing factory workers in the West. Most of the items on display at stores like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Macy's carry the "Made in China" tag, a nagging phenomenon that sometimes bothers customers who realize the outsourcing of jobs has immediate local impact but who themselves are drawn by the lower prices afforded through the transfer of factories overseas.
Few other Western nations have demonstrated fiercer willingness than Germany to fight for manufacturing marketshare. It is the world's fifth largest economy and its third-biggest exporter, boosted by manufacturing that has earned it the status of the continent's economic powerhouse. This position has been hard won, though. Like other Western economies, German companies are facing pressure from lower-cost manufacturers, and this has forced companies in the country to move up the value chain to focus on products that require a higher level of expertise.