White House struggles to woo wary manufacturers

The White House’s effort to aid and ally with the U.S. manufacturing sector is being stymied by its other political priorities and by its 2012 campaign plans.

In recent months and weeks, the administration has yanked pending regulation of companies’ factory boilers and power-companies’ emissions of carbon-dioxide.

President Barack Obama has appointed a few manufacturing-sector CEOs to his advisory council on jobs, and has made high-visibility trips to an auto-factory in Ohio, a lighting-factory in North Carolina, as well as a training center in Northern Virginia, where he lauded the sector’s contribution to the economy.

But the sector’s output is still stalled and its executives are mostly hostile to administration priorities.

Manufacturing lost 5,000 jobs in May because of the sour economy, three pending free-trade agreements are stalled by new White House objections, the manufacturers are facing higher bills for energy and raw materials, and the companies’ executives are worried about a wave of federal regulations, said Chad Moutray, the chief economist of the National Association of Manufacturers.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “are busy turning out regulations left and right that are causing a lot of uncertainty and angst in this community,” he said.

(SHOW US YOURS: Republican Senators step up calls on Obama to produce Medicare plan)

“There is a frustration that is growing within the business community,” said an industry advocate. “They’re saying ‘you’re killing us here,’” he said.

But the senior executives do not want to publicly criticize the administration, he added.

Overseas markets, however, are boosting manufacturers’ optimism, said Moutray. In a recent survey of members, 86 percent of respondents said the coming year will be somewhat or very favorable, he said.

“This is the highest it been in five years … we’re up to where we were in the mid 2000s,” he said, adding that the sector has added 243,000 jobs since December 2009. The dollar’s decline, and growth in overseas economies, is fueling this increase in exports.

That optimism is countered, however, by the sector’s job loses — down 2.3 million jobs from 2009 — and by other companies’ worries about the domestic U.S. market.

The National Federation of Independent Business runs its own survey members, and their confidence declined slight for the third month in a row.

(CUT: White House offers waste panel to voters)

“Corporate profits may be at a record high, but businesses on Main Street are still scraping by,” said a statement by NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg.

Only five percent of respondents believe it is good time to invest in expansion, said the NFIB survey.

That stalled economy has pushed Obama’s poll-ratings down and U.S. unemployment up to 9.1 percent. Many additional people are underemployed or have dropped out off the workforce, making it difficult for Obama to win swing-states, such as Ohio, in 2012.

But Obama can’t easily boost the manufacturing sector without hurting core members of his coalition. His meetings, trips and talks with industry leaders don’t provoke much opposition, and his multi-billion dollar aid program to General Motors and Chrysler has earned him much support from the auto-unions and many auto-workers.