NEW YORK-An annual index released by Deloitte LLP and the Manufacturing Institute shows that Americans view manufacturing as the most important industry for a strong national economy. There is a wide perception gap, however, between the public's highly positive views of manufacturing's contributions to America's economic success and their negative views about pursuing a career in manufacturing.

The survey,“Public Viewpoint on Manufacturing,”which assessed public perceptions and understanding of a range of issues related to manufacturing, shows that the majority of respondents (71%) view manufacturing as a national priority with 59% agreeing that the U.S. manufacturing industry effectively competes on a global scale. These results fall in line with public perceptions that manufacturing plays a larger role in overall economic prosperity compared to the technology, energy, healthcare, retail, communications and financial services industries.

"The public’s ranking of manufacturing as the top industry of importance to our economy, as well as its belief that U.S. manufacturers can compete globally, is very telling," says Craig Giffi, Deloitte LLP vice chairman and U.S. Consumer & Industrial Products industry leader. "Americans clearly still believe that manufacturing remains the backbone of the economy."

Most also agreed that America's manufacturing industries have a significant impact on their standard of living (81%) and on national security (68%). When asked what industry they would most want to have creating 1,000 jobs in their community, respondents listed manufacturing as their top choice, followed by technology, energy, healthcare, retailing, communications and financial institutions.

While Americans view manufacturing as the most important industry for a strong national economy, the index shows that they are not pursuing careers in manufacturing. Only 17% named manufacturing as among their top two industry choices to start a career, and only 30% of parents said they would encourage their children to pursue jobs in manufacturing.

"These are jobs Americans want for their friends and neighbors-but not for themselves or their family members," says Giffi. "America's belief that manufacturing jobs are not clean, safe or interesting may have been accurate at one time, but it’s no longer the case."

"This survey sheds light on a massive disconnect we are facing in manufacturing," says Emily DeRocco, president of the Manufacturing Institute. "People have an outdated image of manufacturing and the career opportunities available. Cutting-edge technology has transformed manufacturing in ways that are hard to imagine if you haven’t visited a factory lately. Jobs now require postsecondary education, skills certification and credentials across a broad range of high-quality, middle-class career paths. The reality is that manufacturers offer high-paying jobs and rewarding careers for American working men and women. Our job is to close the gap between perception and reality, which will help fuel the industry’s growth and prosperity."

Respondents agreed with that conclusion. The majority (77%) believe that the United States needs a more strategic approach to develop its manufacturing base, and 74% said that the United States should further invest in manufacturing industries.

Finally, though Americans believe manufacturing is disadvantaged in the areas of corporate tax policies (46%), trade policies (45%) and general government business policies (45%), they are adamant on what gives the United States the upper hand. By far, the public sees technology use and availability (77%), skilled workers (74%) and energy availability (72%) as resources that give the nation its competitive edge.

The survey was commissioned by Deloitte and conducted online by an independent research company in May 2009. The survey polled a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Americans and has a margin of error for the entire sample of +/- three percentage points.

View survey findingsHere.