Anyone who's ever watched the cable TV show, "Dirty Jobs," knows program host Mike Rowe isn't afraid to get his hands dirty while profiling those who make a living doing work that is frequently backbreaking -- and often unsavory and smelly.
But it appears that Rowe, who also serves as a pitchman for automaker Ford Motor Co., also isn't afraid to immerse himself in the nitty-gritty of U.S. economic and employment policy, itself a lesson in holding one's nose.
In testimony before senators Thursday, during a hearing about the state of manufacturing in America, Rowe stressed the importance of making and building things as an important component to restoring the nation's economic might.
Speaking on behalf of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, Rowe in a written statement told lawmakers that he was "eager to partner with the federal government to help reconnect our country to the importance of manufacturing and skilled labor."
He stressed the importance of policies that promote infrastructure investment and job creation in the manufacturing sector -- strategies that President Barack Obama has been pushing since taking office.
Rowe and the trade group he represents are hardly alone in their desire to see America -- and Americans -- make more tangible, useful things. There is no shortage of those who bemoan the nation's diminished manufacturing capability. From steel to electronics to clothing to household appliances, more and more of the products U.S. consumers buy are imported.
Whether the U.S. still needs a significant manufacturing base has been endlessly debated in recent years -- especially amid the recent recession when the country was struggling for ways to create new jobs. It's a question Michael Schuman addressed in his "Curious Capitalist" blog at Time.com last December.
In response to a tweet by Hartmut Jenner, CEO of Germany's Kaercher, a producer of high-end cleaning equipment, who expressed, rather passionately, concern about America's deteriorating manufacturing abilities, Schuman offered a counterpoint: A nation today doesn't need to have its own factories to be an economic power, even a manufacturing power.
He pointed to iconic electronics-maker Apple Inc., as an example.
From Schuman's Dec. 9 entry:
Here's a firm that is essentially a computer and consumer electronics maker -- that doesn't make very many of its own products. Apple owns one factory (in, of all places, Ireland), but outsources "substantially all" its manufacturing to other companies, as an Apple spokesperson wrote me. And what impact has that had on Apple? Not much, it seems. Apple is one of the most influential companies in the world, with a stock price that is currently around an all-time high. That's because the real value in Apple's products can be found in the design, technology and branding, not in the process of physically screwing them together in a factory.
Whether the U.S. needs to design and manufacture goods in the volumes it once did likely will remain a source of debate across the political spectrum for years.
But if there is one certainty, it is that many people like the idea of Americans making things -- even if it means performing arduous or even dangerous work -- perhaps even the kinds of jobs that have kept Rowe employed and the rest of us entertained for the last six years.
Next: Now Hiring: GE Creating 1,000 Manufacturing Jobs
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