The storms that sweep industrial America normally skirt Washington. But on Thursday, winds from the current one will rattle Pennsylvania Avenue a bit as the nine-decade-old National Association of Manufacturers yields to the same cost pressures afflicting member companies.
The budget for the association's new fiscal year that begins that day cuts 23 of NAM's 200-plus jobs through attrition, early retirement and layoffs. The association will downgrade several field offices, discontinue its magazine Enterprise and combine the work of a number of issue committees to save on staff and money.
"We're now a member of a rather large club," says association president Alexander B. Trowbridge. American business has been restructuring and now NAM, as the body is known, is following suit reluctantly.
Trowbridge suggests it was only a matter of time before manufacturers' hard times caught up with their representatives in Washington. Though the association has continued to gain members -- about 13,500 companies now are on the rolls -- dues are on the downturn as mergers scale down the number of big-time members and the small members proliferate.
The cuts are intended to save about $1.1 million, bringing spending in line with the $12 million or so in revenue the organization expects. One-time windfalls like insurance refunds and securities profits had been helping it meet ends in past years. But Trowbridge says: "You can't build a budget on faith that the stock market will continue to treat you well in the next year."
Like most corporate chiefs who order a "downsizing," Trowbridge says that his is going to leave the association "lean and mean," more able to take on the challenges that lie ahead.
NAM was founded in 1895 in Cincinnati, with William McKinley, then governor of Ohio, addressing the opening convention. It has since grown into a national organization, championing in Washington the viewpoint of both large and small manufacturing companies.
At its founding, with a recession under way, prime objectives were promotion of foreign trade and guarding of the home market. Ninety-two years later, trade is thriving, but not necessarily in the way American producers would like, as foreign goods pour into the United States in volumes never before experienced.
The competition has brought painful retrenchments in the steel, automobile and electronics industries with huge layoffs. Productivity has risen consistently, however, with NAM saying that U.S. manufacturers are today by no means on the ropes and will go on to be a major player in world markets.
But today NAM, headquartered at 1331 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, is for the first time feeling the pain so many of its member companies have felt in recent years.
Coworkers have given sentimental sendoffs to victims of the layoff, with the association smoothing the way somewhat with severance pay and extended medical coverage. Other jobs are being eliminated through attrition and early retirement.
"It's not a happy occasion for anyone," says communications vice president David B. Bowes.
Except for member companies. "Welcome to the club," is the message they have been sending, says Trowbridge.