Rebuilding American manufacturing

10 years ago

There’s no denying it, America’s manufacturing sector has faced more than its share of tough challenges through the past few decades. But despite countless setbacks and roadblocks, our manufacturing base has – true to the American spirit — persevered with great strength and resilience. America is still the number one manufacturer in the world, and American-made products are still in high demand. That’s because we make quality goods here — and only the best in Maine. It’s a fact that I’ve seen firsthand as I visited and toured several manufacturers across Maine. Without question, it’s the quality of the folks who work there that spur innovation and make these businesses so successful.
Now it’s time for Washington to catch up. Congress needs to take a page out of Maine’s playbook and find ways to encourage companies to link innovation and quality to turn ideas into success. More importantly, Washington needs to make laws that will incentivize job creation and protect the folks who are already working in this sector.
In Maine we realize that we can’t sustain an economy by simply taking in each other’s laundry or offering other services. Instead, we have to make something. And that’s what our state does — from world-class Navy destroyers at Bath Iron Works, to composites and footwear products at Jones and Vining in Lewiston, to plastic cutlery at Jardin Plastic Solutions in East Wilton, to advanced microelectrodes at FHC, Inc. in Bowdoin, or bullet proof vests at Tex Tech Industries in Monmouth.
However, these folks are the exception — the manufacturing sector is struggling. We lost 32 percent of manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010, and saw 42,000 of our factories shutter their doors. But there’s some good news. We don’t have to throw up our hands and accept that these jobs naturally go to low wage countries. Germany’s experience tells us that a developed country such as ours can sustain a vibrant manufacturing sector. Germany has the same standard of living, the same labor standards, the same level of employment costs, and yet 20 percent of their economy is based upon manufacturing. It is only 10 or 11 percent in this country.
They didn’t do it by waving a magic wand. It started with forging partnerships, particularly between the manufacturing world and the academic world. Encouraging increased collaboration between the production factories and the knowledge factories — colleges and universities, like the University of Maine, which has developed amazing new ways to deal with composites — will create innovation, create new jobs, and create new ways of building wealth.
Government can be the catalyst that jumpstarts American manufacturing, but should not play a directorial role in shaping this reformation. Rather than steering the course of this development, policymakers should be launching it — then allowing the business and research communities to chart their own course. That’s why I’ve thrown my full support behind S. 1468, The Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act of 2013, a truly bipartisan bill that would create hubs for manufacturing innovation to harness the efforts of both the business and academic communities.
And while fostering creativity is key, it of course shouldn’t be the end all be all. We need to do much more to help support manufacturing jobs here at home, like ending shortsighted trade policies that disadvantage American workers, take a hard look at reforming our tax code, invest in education and job training programs, and expand research and development, among many other things.
Manufacturing has always been a driving force behind economic prosperity and good jobs. At the end of the day, Americans are doers and Congress owes it to the American people to help pave new paths to success and to support change that will foster creativity, cultivate economic development, and allow Americans to what we do best — innovate, create, build, and in the process, change the world.