02/15/2013 01:48 pm ET Updated Apr 17, 2013

Getting Serious About U.S. Manufacturing - Again

As bad as the Great Recession might have been for manufacturing, it's had a fascinating silver lining for the image of manufacturing, which not too long ago felt like a lost cause.

Politicians at the federal, state and local levels are now aggressively investing in and courting activity in the sector, as evidenced by President Barack Obama's focus on manufacturing in the State of the Union.

"Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing," Obama said during his Tuesday, Feb. 12, speech, where he repeatedly mentioned manufacturing. (Eight times, but who's counting?)

That's a far cry from the days when outsourcing seemed irreversible. I can't shake the words of a 2008 presidential candidate, who remarked: "Those jobs aren't coming back."

In fact, as Obama noted, "After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again."

So, those jobs are coming back now.

And given manufacturing jobs' strong multiplier effect, political leaders have figured out they need those jobs to get the nation's economy back on its feet.

On Wednesday, Feb. 13, Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, spoke to the Detroit Economic Club about the comeback of manufacturing and to promote the organization's report, "A Growth Agenda: Four Goals for a Manufacturing Resurgence in America."

While the mood for manufacturing is generally positive, evidenced by the latest Manufacturing Barometer survey from PwC, Timmons cautioned that politicians aren't taking the threats to the manufacturing sector seriously enough and that there are many changes we should undertake to rebuild our manufacturing strength.

"Washington has to start taking our competition more seriously," said Timmons, whose organization represents 12,000 manufacturers of all sizes. "Other countries have figured out how to compete against us."

NAM's growth agenda calls for a variety of policy changes, such as decreasing the business tax rates, investing in education, adopting a diversified approach to energy production, streamlining regulations and adopting comprehensive immigration reform.

Later that day, he told me about the increasingly receptive environment manufacturing faces in seeking change.

I do think the perception of manufacturing is changing. ...The good news for manufacturers is that everyone in Washington is talking about it. They want to see a manufacturing revival, a renaissance. They understand that for every dollar invested in manufacturing, another $1.48 in economic activity occurs. That's good for the economy in the long run.

So there's awareness of the importance of manufacturing. The problem we've got is that awareness does not extend to what it takes to be successful. It just doesn't happen automatically. We talk about risk and there is a heck of a lot of investment, a lot of time, energy and sweat equity that is plowed into manufacturing enterprises. Congress and government agencies have not figured out how they can get out of the way so manufacturers can thrive. That's our challenge at the NAM, that's why we have a growth agenda, why we developed our four growth goals. We want people to rally behind those goals.