What “Made in America” Means in a Global Economy

YU Wall Street Group Explores the Manufacturing Sector in the US Economy

On Monday, June 19, the YU Wall Street Group hosted a panel discussion titled, “The Promise of ‘Made in America,’” concerning the role of manufacturing in the American economy. The event took place at Hodgson Russ LLP and was organized by the Office of Alumni Affairs.

The panel, moderated by Jake Novak, senior columnist at CNBC.com, included Tracey Massey, president of Mars Chocolate, North America; Tom Apple, vice president and corporate counsel for ITOCHU International Inc.; and Neal Soss, vice chairman of research for Credit Suisse.

In his introduction, Moshe Orenbuch ’84YC, a member of the YU Wall Street Committee, the Wall Street Group’s board, gave thanks to the event’s organizers and noted that one of the Wall Street Group’s most important purposes “is to help Yeshiva University in its fundraising and to help our students get internships and full-time positions, something the Wall Street Group has had more and more success with over the last two years under the guidance of co-chair Lawrence Askowitz ’87YC.”

Novak’s questions to the panel focused on six topics: the messaging from the Trump administration about reviving manufacturing; the state of the employment market; education; regulation and taxation; infrastructure; and decision-making about where to locate manufacturing plants.

(l-r) Tom Apple (ITOCHU International Inc.); Neal Soss (Credit Suisse); Tracey Massey (Mars Chocolate North America); Jake Novak (CNBC.com)
(l-r) Tom Apple (ITOCHU International Inc.); Neal Soss (Credit Suisse); Tracey Massey (Mars Chocolate North America); Jake Novak (CNBC.com)

Overall, the panelists agreed that the U.S. manufacturing sector will never be restored to the level that President Trump desires. However, manufacturing continues to be a significant portion of the American gross domestic product, and the factors which constrain its growth have less to do with regulation and taxation and more to do with structural shifts in the global economy, especially the growing use of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other new technologies.

Improving the possibilities for increased manufacturing in America depends on three factors not directly related to manufacturing but which have an enormous effect on its productivity.

First, the panelists agreed that a vocational education approach that emphasizes apprenticeships and other hands-on training programs would be helpful. Apple agreed with Soss’ suggestion that reinstituting the military draft would give the country a more disciplined workforce, stating that “it seems to work for Israel.”

Second, infrastructure upgrades should not only repair existing stock but invest in things like “smart” electricity grids and clean energy. Massey noted that it’s crucial to balance infrastructure with manufacturing to “find that optimal placement that minimizes travel and puts the source of raw materials as close as possible.”

Third, improved manufacturing would restore some economic stability to certain labor sectors, like workers in rural economies and many other laborers left behind by economic changes.

All four on the panel agreed that one thing that makes contemporary economic forecasting difficult is how the blurred boundaries between economic players have unexpected ripple effects. This trend of more and more enterprises not fitting into traditional molds will only continue.

For instance, as Soss pointed out, a perfect example is Amazon: “What do they do? What kind of company are they? Yet they affect everything.” He also thought the same will happen to the auto industry as auto makers move to driverless cars. “As more information technology is put into these cars, what does it mean for the insurance industry, a business we think of as intrinsically financial, as it has to figure out how to price premiums for robotic drivers?”

Novak thanked the panelists for their insights and invited them back for another discussion about what has changed and what has not.

The Wall Street Group is one of many professional networks sponsored by the Office of Alumni Affairs. More information about these networks can be found at www.yuprofessionalnetworking.com. YU ALUMinate offers YU alumni the chance to post jobs, make professional connections and search for mentors at www.yualuminate.com.