Let’s make 2012 the Year of Manufacturing in the US

Sherrod Brown
You may not know Elizabeth Williams personally, but you know someone like her.

Elizabeth Williams is a single mother of two living in North Jackson who has worked at General Motors’ Lordstown plant for 17 years. One of her sons, Zachary, dreams of becoming a state highway patrolman. Though he’s only in high school, he works as a part-time dispatcher for the Columbiana Police Department after school. Her other son, Bryan, is an iron worker who’s stayed in the Mahoning Valley and is working on building V&M Star Steel’s new $650 million expansion in Youngstown.

Every year, Senators and Members of Congress are allotted one guest ticket for the State of the Union address. Last week, Elizabeth Williams attended President Obama’s address as my guest – because she and her family symbolize exactly how important manufacturing is to Ohio and to our nation.

The most recent jobs report noted 23,000 manufacturing jobs were added in December, affirming that manufacturing is critical to an economic recovery. Yet as we’ve seen with the auto rescue, there is a role for government to work alongside the private sector in supporting manufacturing.

Rescuing the auto industry was about saving American manufacturing and preventing Ohio from entering a depression. It wasn’t just about three companies in Detroit, but about the hundreds of suppliers and thousands of workers – like Elizabeth – that are the backbone of Ohio’s economy.

Today, plants from Toledo to Defiance to Youngstown are hiring workers. The Chevy Cruze—which Elizabeth helps assemble at Lordstown—is one of the hottest selling cars in America. And as new data from the Center for Automotive Research reveals, we are seeing jobs retained and created in the auto and manufacturing sectors. Between 2009 and 2010, we added more than 3,000 new auto jobs in Ohio. By 2015, Ohio will add 3,500 new jobs on top of that. But much more needs to be done.

Last year, following the State of the Union, I called on the President to give manufacturing the attention it rightly deserves. Our manufacturers face a slew of challenges right now. According to a recent report, the U.S. has lost 28 percent of its high-technology manufacturing jobs over the last decade. Manufacturers across Ohio and our country are facing a flood of cheap Chinese imports— often priced artificially low due to currency manipulation. And in December, a federal appeals court ruled that the United States cannot place tariffs on subsidized imports from countries like China—the same tariffs that have helped create jobs at dozens of companies, like V&M Star Steel, where Elizabeth’s son Bryan is hard at work

So the question is: how can we strengthen manufacturing? That starts with enforcing trade law, which may be the best jobs plan that doesn’t cost taxpayers one cent. Last year, the biggest bipartisan jobs bill to pass the Senate was my Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011, a bill to crack down on China’s unfair currency manipulation. Currency manipulation is an illegal trade practice in which the Chinese government intentionally devalues its own currency against the United States dollar, giving its exports a price advantage. Though my bill cleared the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 63-35, leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives have yet to bring it to the floor for a vote. That vote is long overdue – and I urge my colleagues in the House to take up this bill as soon as possible.

I’ve also been working with the Administration – as well as workers, educators, businesses, and manufacturers across Ohio – to develop a national manufacturing strategy. Last year, with Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), I introduced the National Manufacturing Strategy Act of 2011, which seeks to increase manufacturing jobs, identify emerging technologies to enhance U.S. competitiveness, and strengthen the manufacturing sectors in which the U.S. is most competitive.

And finally, we must work to add 21st-century manufacturing jobs in Ohio – and ensure that our workers have the skills to fill those positions. I’ve long called for the renewal of a research & development tax credit known as the Advanced Manufacturing Tax Credit, or 48C. This credit has already helped many Ohio companies create jobs and transition to the clean energy economy. I’ve also called for the passage of the Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act, which would help workers train for high-tech jobs in their region. By tailoring workforce development to the needs of regional, high-growth industries, more workers will receive jobs and more businesses will be attracted to the region based.

We may never replace all the manufacturing jobs that we’ve lost – but we can stand up for our workers. We should do everything we can to create the conditions that can create the jobs they need and that our country needs. We should do everything we can to show once again that manufacturing is the backbone to our economy and our middle class.

Sherrod Brown is a United States Senator from Ohio.