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The Case for a National Manufacturing Strategy

 
Chicago Sun-Times
July 31, 2010
By Daniel Lipinski

Manufacturing has been a pillar of the American economy for generations, and remains a valuable path to the middle class for millions of families. Today, the manufacturing industry provides good-paying jobs to 11.6 million Americans, including roughly 560,000 Illinois workers.

Accounting for nearly two-thirds of U.S. exports, manufacturing is essential to lowering our trade deficit and to helping lead the country out of recession. It is also critical for our national security, ensuring we can provide for our own defense.

Unfortunately, manufacturing has suffered dramatic declines in recent years. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has lost a factory job or knows someone who has, has seen a once-thriving plant in their community go dark, or has followed the news about the outsourcing of American jobs.

Certainly we all know how hard it has become to find a "Made in U.S.A" label when shopping for everything from clothes to toys to tools.

Even so, the numbers are shocking. In the past decade, almost one-third of U.S. manufacturing jobs — including in Illinois — have disappeared. The industry’s share of U.S. GDP is roughly half of what it was in 1980. And to top it off, after 110 years as the world’s top manufacturing nation, America is about to get knocked off its perch by China.

Despite all this, Washington has failed to defend American manufacturers. Contrary to what some seem to believe, these job losses were not inevitable, and I do not accept the notion that there is nothing we can do. Another decade like the last one would dramatically undermine the American middle class and, most importantly, leave us unable to produce many of the goods we require for our national security.

To help avoid this grim future, I introduced the bipartisan National Manufacturing Strategy Act, H.R. 4692, which passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday and has been introduced in the Senate. While there will continue to be disagreements over the impact of America’s trade agreements and our failure to address China’s mercantilist policies, there is undoubtedly broad support for developing and implementing a manufacturing strategy.

Although we already have numerous federal programs and policies designed to support American manufacturing — such as export assistance, research and development funding, and workforce training programs — these are generally disjointed and reactive, diminishing their impact. The goal of the strategy is to harmonize and expand promotion of American manufacturing and make it more coherent, forward-looking and results-oriented.

Under H.R. 4692, the president will appoint a board of federal officials and private sector leaders to conduct an in-depth analysis of American manufacturing and develop specific recommendations for promoting its success. Among other things, the strategy must include short- and long-term goals for improving domestic production, investment, and international competitiveness, and assuring an adequate defense industrial base.

Public hearings would be held around the country to gather input. Like America’s Quadrennial Defense Review, the National Manufacturing Strategy would be updated every four years, enabling us to build upon successful initiatives while correcting course as necessary.

Passage of this bill would finally put American manufacturing on Washington’s agenda. It would make it impossible to continue to ignore the industry’s importance or gloss over its difficulties. Numerous other countries already have similar manufacturing strategies, including not only China and India, but also the U.K., Brazil, Canada, and Germany.

Throughout the Chicago region, the effects of the outsourcing of American jobs are plain to see. In my district, many of the local manufacturers that lined 65th Street in Bedford Park when I was growing up are shuttered or have been replaced by distribution facilities for foreign goods. But I have no doubt that American manufacturing can thrive in the global marketplace.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski, a Democrat, represents Illinois' 3rd Congressional District.