Competitiveness is a hot topic these days. In an election year that is characterized by sluggish economic growth, both in the U.S. and globally, there is no shortage of politicians and pundits these days who offer sure-fire solutions that will restore jobs and ensure future prosperity. We have all heard numerous promises to “level the playing field” or “reform the tax code” or “cut the deficit” or “eliminate regulations” or “fight for the middle class.” Yet while we have heard these promises over and over during the past generation, the clear trend in the data is that the competitiveness of the U.S. is getting worse, not better.
The corporate sector and academia have joined the debate, but it is far from clear that they have the answer. The manufacturing sector is currently experiencing great difficulty in finding skilled workers, despite the fact that there are large numbers of unemployed workers who are looking for a job. Recent studies show that this skills gap is actually resulting in the loss of skilled jobs—jobs that require scientific, engineering, or technical training—to other countries. The U.S. has the best colleges and universities in the world, but high-tech companies who need access to highly skilled workers are increasingly choosing other countries as the best place to expand their operations.
But if it’s not the politicians and it’s not the corporate sector, then who does have the power to make America more competitive. Consumers do, that’s who. The American consumer sector is the most powerful market force on the planet. And U.S. consumers need to start demanding and then consuming competitiveness with every single dollar they spend. The most competitive goods and services are not necessarily the ones with the lowest price. Competitive products are made the right way, using the right materials, and they are the best at filling a real need. Cost is not the main factor that drives demand for competitive products, value is.
There is a great deal more that needs to be said about the power of consuming competitiveness. I will explore this topic in greater detail during my presentations down in Orlando during the upcoming NPE 2012. But for now I will close with this thought: If we wish to prosper, then we must become more competitive. And if we wish to become more competitive, then we must do so not only in our businesses and our universities, but also in our households and in our everyday lives. It will not be easy, but it will be easier than accepting the alternative. And it will be a whole lot more fun.
Plastics Market Economist
Mountaintop Economics & Research, Inc.