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STIMULUS PACKAGE NO CURE-ALL

John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, a trade group representing small and large manufacturers, was in St. Petersburg this week speaking to the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort. The former three-term governor of Michigan spoke with the Times about the state of the U.S. economy, and how policymakers in Washington can help U.S. companies compete in a fiercely global market. Some highlights:

Will the recent economic stimulus package help the country?

From the manufacturing standpoint, I don't think the stimulus package will help solve all of the economic challenges that the nation faces. However, I feel it's very helpful in restoring public confidence.

There are some provisions that are beneficial in the short term for business and manufacturing. Accelerated depreciation would be helpful (allowing companies larger depreciation on capital investment). We would like to see something in net operating losses (where a company can carry losses to a profitable year). We do believe the R&D credit for companies has to be done. For an economy that's dependent on innovation, that is absolutely the least that we should be doing.

What's the future of America's manufacturing industry?

If you look at manufacturing in America, we are about $1.7-trillion in terms of annual contribution. ... (But) the pressure of globalization is creating more choices and opportunities in other parts of the world and if we don't send consistent, strong and correct signals at home we are going to put jobs in the future at risk. We are clearly not going to be the low-cost producer of products and services. But we can be highly competitive.

What are Florida's prospects in manufacturing?

Florida certainly has some unique opportunities - the access to South and Central America is of high value. I just visited the Caribbean and there's this opportunity (to access) several billion dollars worth of hotels and resorts construction. You are close to the big ports. You need to leverage those assets. Florida manufacturers are very excited about some of the gains made (such as) strengthening of training and education infrastructure.

What's the future of the auto industry?

A profound shift is taking place. The competing global companies have been so tough that it has changed market share. Here you have these companies that are not union, and then you have the Detroit industry, which is heavily unionized. (U.S. automakers) had to tear the rules down, had to restructure their health care costs and retirement benefits.

There's a lot of residual strength in General Motors and Ford. They just have to get their costs in line and have products in the pipeline and fight for market share.

Madhusmita Bora can be reached at (813)225-3112 or mbora@sptimes,com.

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