TRAVERSE CITY, MI – He didn’t say, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you,” but federal trade representative Al Frink makes it clear that even though he is from the government, his mission really is aimed at helping U.S. manufacturers, including the auto industry, become more globally competitive.

“I want to assure everyone that we understand your situation,” says Frink, assistant secretary-Manufacturing and Services International Trade Admin., U.S. Dept. of Commerce.

“We’re aware of the competitive pressures you face. And our team is working hard to help you combat those challenges,” he tells attendees at the Management Briefing Seminars here.

Frink serves as the chief advocate for the U.S. manufacturing and service sectors within the federal government, and he brings 30 years of experience as an entrepreneur and small business owner to his new position.

As the assistant secretary, Frink says he advocates, coordinates and implements policies that will help U.S. manufacturers compete. That includes creating conditions for economic growth and investment, promoting open markets and a level playing field and helping lower the cost of manufacturing in the U.S.

Pointing out that if the U.S. manufacturing sector were a separate country, it would be the seventh largest economy in the world, Frink says, and that as a sector, it remains America’s most profitable.

“So I want to reassure you that U.S. manufacturing is still the engine that drives our economy,” he says.

“And in order for manufacturers to be competitive, we need a healthy domestic environment. We have an estimated 24.7% higher cost to doing business than many industrialized countries.”

Key areas of focus in helping U.S. manufacturers compete are health-care costs, workforce development and energy. Health care alone consumes 16% of the gross domestic product, Frink says, and manufacturing consumes more than one-third of all energy in the U.S., including 40% of the natural gas and 30% of the electricity.

Frink also touts the Office of Industry Analysis, which he says is aimed at helping remove burdensome regulations.

One recent victory, he tells attendees, was making less onerous an Occupational Safety and Health Admin. (OSHA) regulation regarding hexavalent chromium exposure in the workplace.

Hexavalent chromium is used widely in pigments and the plating industry. The original standard would have put many small companies out of business because it would require expensive filtration and other types of equipment.

The OIA was able to reduce the standard to a level that increases worker safety but will not kill small businesses, Frink says.

He says the auto team of the OIA currently is reviewing the Dept. of Transportation's Side Impact Regulation and is beginning to review regulations pertaining to electronic stability control systems.

“The outcome of these reviews will help your industry become more competitive,” Frink says.

dwinter@wardsauto.com