It’s “Take a Congressman to work’ month

Plant Engineering Content Manager and Editor, Bob Vavra, discusses his experience at the 2011 Manufacturing/Automation Summit in Chicago, IL.


In the two days of insights, information and knowledge gained at the 2011 Manufacturing/Automation Summit in Chicago, two specific nuggets were shared by the speakers.

  1. Congressmen need to be educated on the issues facing manufacturing;
  2. Congressmen like white glazed donuts.

U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo of Illinois’ 16th Congressional District, which includes Rockford and most of northwestern Illinois, kicked off the annual Plant Engineering Product of the Year dinner with an a suggestion that manufacturers throw open their doors to their Congressman to help them get a close-up view of the work being done by their constituents.

Most of it is a sincere attempt to bring a face and a name to the broad, sometimes nebulous concepts of manufacturing, although Manzullo made a point to suggest that meeting 100 or so constituents at one time is time well-spent on a weekday out of Washington.

That doesn’t mean it has to be a grand event. A few donuts (Manzullo said Congressmen preferred the white icing) and some good coffee. Oh, and one other thing: “Don’t have a PowerPoint that exceeds 2½ minutes,” he said. “I hate PowerPoints.”

After the donuts, though, comes an opportunity to understand a manufacturing plant, its workers and its challenges in more than abstract terms. “When I go to visit a facility, it locks in. I can see people at work. I can relate to what’s going on in manufacturing,” Manzullo said. “At that point, you’re establishing a relationship. When an issue comes up, that member of Congress has seen your facility. He’s seen the workers; he knows how hard you work.”

It’s time, as we’ve suggested many times, for manufacturing to climb out of the shadows and generate the light and the heat for the work going on in our plants. Absent a clear, aggressive national manufacturing policy, the hard work for manufacturing will have to be done by the hard workers in manufacturing.

That open door policy ought to apply beyond just elected officials. I was reminded when I attended last month’s ProMat Show in Chicago of one of the best examples of this. I visited the Raymond Corp. plant in Muscatine, IA a couple of years ago. While the press was down there to chronicle the event, this was really a celebration of the plant and its role in the fabric of the Muscatine community.

It was a picnic on the grounds for the employees and for the community. It was a chance to show the town what Raymond did in Muscatine, how it operated. Perhaps it gave some young people a vision that this would be a pretty cool place to work, and it gave other business leaders a better appreciation for the importance of manufacturing in a small community.

I was reminded about this when one of the staff from Muscatine came bounding up while I was visiting the Raymond booth to say hello. I’ve told the story of Raymond’s plant open house before as an example to other manufacturers that it’s OK to be visible in the community, in the schools.

It is that kind of grass-roots campaign – something members of Congress know very well – that often has a great impact on how policy is created at all levels of government. We’ve all seen parent groups form to affect change at their local schools, for individuals who care about a particular social issue to come together to campaign, protest and push for change. Isn’t manufacturing important enough to merit the same level of fervor?

There needs to be a method to all of this, of course. We want Congress and our communities to see our plants because they need to understand that manufacturing is not numbers of a balance sheet. They are jobs and people and economic health.

We need a “Take a Congressman to Work” initiative for manufacturing. They’re busy people, of course, but so are we, and manufacturing needs more attention from Congress. We’re at a critical juncture, and we need all the attention we can get.

One important thing: Don’t forget the donuts. White glazed. Your congressman will thank you, and remember you.

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