AMERICA EDGING CLOSER TO A COMMITMENT TO COMPETITIVE EXCELLENCE, CHIEF OF NATIONAL MANUFACTURERS GROUP SAYSMade in the USA? Forget it, right? America, as everyone knows, has forfeited its World War II legacy as the manufacturing miracle maker. Japan, Korea, Germany, even Malaysia and Mexico, are doing a better job of building things than we are.

Not so fast, says Alexander B. Trowbridge.True, the 1980s has not been a banner decade for U.S. manufacturers, but the days of hand wringing and breast beating are over. Today, says Trowbridge, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, the road to recovery is being paved with success stories as American manufacturers:

- clarify their basic business strategies;

- Improve product quality;

- increase their export efforts;

- encourage continuous skills development;

- invest in new plants and technologies.

"Each success nudges this nation closer to a national commitment to competitive excellence," said Trowbridge, a former U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

"And because service industries depend on a healthy manufacturing sector, America's future economic vitality is being shaped in factories far more than in institutions with higher visibility. I see it happening in every region of our land."

In a scenario reminiscent of Geneva Steel's rebirth, Trowbridge cites the Fair-crest steel plant, near Canton, Ohio, as an example being set for manufacturers everywhere.

In a world that no longer looks chiefly to the United States for manufactured goods, said Trowbridge, the computerized Faircrest plant, owned by The Timken Company, is "a testament to the premise that managers and employees can forge a common future that emphasizes investments in capital, technology and training. "

The future began at Faircrest in 1981, when U.S. manufacturing in general and steelmaking in particular were looking very weak from a global perspective. But with United Steel Workers approval of contract modifications, management "swallowed hard," said Trowbridge, and invested a half-billion dollars in the plant.

The following year, it seemed the leap of faith would result in a fatal fall as Timken's steel production fell to 40 percent of capacity as markets dwindled. But management didn't falter and Faircrest stayed on track right through the recession. Said Trowbridge: "They bet on the community, the economic comeback of the midwest and the future U.S. living standard."

Rejecting the notion that the United States has become a service-oriented "post industrial" society, Faircrest began production in 1985. In 1987, ahead of schedule and under cost, it achieved full capacity, averaging two labor hours per ton compared with the industry average of seven.

"Nearly a decade after Timken's momentous decision to invest in Faircrest, and union concurrence in this initiative," said Trowbridge, "the lesson for other industries and for policy makers is clearer than ever: Expanding modern productive capacity is essential for manufacturing to continue creating America's economic and national security strength."

Trowbridge said manufacturing's resurgence must be reinforced, both by manufacturers and Congress. Manufacturers must strive for competitive excellence in all phases of their operations while government policy makers create a stable economic environment by avoiding regulatory overload, making the trading system fair, improving education and training, and reducing the federal deficit while encouraging saving and investment.

Ultimately, said Trowbridge, "at stake is nothing less than the global influence of the United States.