Ensuring That Global Competitiveness Starts at Home
Admiral William G. Sutton, the Commerce Department’s newly confirmed assistant secretary for manufacturing and services, answers questions about the role of his office in ensuring the continued strength of U.S. industry in the world.
On August 3, 2007, before breaking for summer recess, the Senate unanimously confirmed Admiral William (“Woody”) G. Sutton as the Commerce Department’s assistant secretary for manufacturing and services. In the position, Sutton will head the Manufacturing and Services (MAS) unit of the International Trade Administration.
Previously, Sutton served for five years as the president of the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute. However, MAS’s new assistant secretary is no stranger to government service. Sutton had a distinguished 30-year career in the U.S. Navy, retiring in 2000 with the rank of rear admiral.
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|William (“Woody”) G. Sutton (right), new assistant secretary of commerce for manufacturing and services, speaks to a meeting of manufacturers in Jackson, Michigan, on September 10, 2007. (U.S. Department of Commerce photo)
Recently, Sutton sat down with Matt Braud, the communications director of MAS, to discuss his experiences, his thoughts about U.S. competitiveness, and the role of his office.
Braud: How do you plan on advocating for the interests of two distinct industry sectors—manufacturing and services?
Sutton: If you think about it, they’re not that distinct. Manufacturing and services complement each other. Each enhances the other’s competitiveness in the global marketplace. I believe that recent advances in technology, productivity, logistics, and financial sophistication have fully and inextricably linked these two sectors. They have merged in a way that enables America’s industries to compete successfully across a wide range of businesses.
Both sectors are also critical components of the U.S. economy. I understand the services sector is integrated into our economy and will ensure that it receives appropriate consideration, focus, and resources when providing input to the policy-makers.
Braud: How has your experience as a trade association executive prepared you for this job?
Sutton: The Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) is the trade association for a sector that generates $30 billion a year in revenue for U.S. manufacturers. During my tenure, I visited over 80 plants of all shapes, sizes, and levels of sophistication. Some were mom and pop operations; others were global conglomerates. On all of these visits, I saw one common thread: U.S manufacturers can compete successfully with anybody, given a level playing field.
ARI represents its members in the federal and state regulatory processes [by] developing performance standards and [by] administering equipment certification programs. It concentrates on other issues, including market access, intellectual property rights, and tariffs, because its members constantly wrestle with the increasing costs of manufacturing and growing global competition. Basically, the industry I represented, and the issues it faces, symbolize a microcosm of what is happening to U.S. industry at large.
Braud: How do you envision and understand the role of the Manufacturing and Services unit?
Sutton: MAS plays a number of valuable roles in strengthening competitiveness. Its responsibilities as the lead advocate for the manufacturing and services industries are critical. I picture this office as a bridge between industry and the government. Through the advisory committees and councils, such as the Manufacturing Council, we give U.S. industry a prominent seat at the policy-making table.
My background with U.S. industry has given me a true understanding of what MAS can be doing in a broader sense. Every policy, regulation, or law should be made with an eye toward competitiveness. MAS, along with the other units of the International Trade Administration, can improve our market-driven economy and help determine the future of globalization.
I would also like to stress that our way of doing business, in a market-driven economy, should be our No. 1 export. That is one of the best ways for us to stay competitive in a global economy.
Braud: As assistant secretary, in what ways can you draw on your experience in the Navy?
Sutton: My service in the Navy helped me develop leadership, management, and executive skills that carry over to this position. After 30 years in the Navy, I learned to adapt quickly and hit the ground running in a wide variety of leadership posts. Furthermore, I learned that freedom of the seas facilitates trade. Our founding fathers understood this concept when they stated that [the United States would] maintain a Navy.
Braud: How do you view your tasks, responsibilities, and mission as assistant secretary? And what can you do to make a difference during your term?
Sutton: I will focus the office on providing practical and actionable input to the regulatory and policy processes. As globalization continues to shape international commerce, I see U.S. global competitiveness starting right here at home.
We have an opportunity to decrease the premium that U.S employers pay to operate here in the United States. My goal will be to help develop and maintain an environment in which the smart business decision for any U.S company will be to open or expand an operation right here.
The voice of the U.S manufacturing and services worker must be heard. I intend to establish MAS as the primary office for evaluating policy impacts on the domestic and global competitiveness of U.S. industry.
We have a highly competent staff of industry experts and analysts who provide critical data focused on competitiveness. Together, we can aid Congress, industry stakeholders, and the federal agencies with the complex issues created since the evolution of globalization.
“As globalization continues to shape international commerce, I see U.S. global competitiveness starting right here at home.”
— William (“Woody”) G. Sutton, assistant secretary of commerce for manufacturing and services