Business Forum: U.S. manufacturing policy needed

By:  Bob Casey

Since the end of 2009, Pennsylvania has added more than 15,000 manufacturing jobs -- more than all but three states. That's encouraging news.

But we've got a long way to go to recover the manufacturing jobs lost in the last decade. From February 2001 to February 2009, Pennsylvania lost more than 250,000 manufacturing positions -- three of every 10 manufacturing jobs in our state -- largely because of foreign trade and overseas competition.

Recently, I convened a roundtable of the leaders of several southwestern Pennsylvania companies at the Universal Electric Corp. in Canonsburg to hear about their experiences and ideas that I can bring to Washington, D.C., to keep the focus on supporting manufacturing.

We had a good discussion on some things that need to be fixed to ensure that our manufacturers and workers in Pennsylvania aren't put at a disadvantage by unfair competition. There are many innovative production practices these companies use.

To make real, sustained progress in U.S. manufacturing, Washington needs to do a better job. We must develop and commit ourselves to a national manufacturing strategy. We need a plan.

Today, the U.S. manufacturing sector employs about 8 million fewer people than it did in 1979. I hear a number of common themes, including the need to:

  • Develop a comprehensive national manufacturing strategy, built from the input of small and large businesses, labor and other key stakeholders, which strengthens our competitiveness.
  • Make permanent the R&D tax credit to give companies the certainty they need to make long-term research investments in the United States.
  • Crack down on China's currency manipulation and other unfair trade practices so that Pennsylvania companies and workers have a fair shot. Legislation I recently introduced will give us new tools to hold countries accountable for manipulating their currencies.
  • Extend trade adjustment assistance to help those workers who have lost their jobs to overseas competition to build new skills and find new employment.
  • Invest in science, technology, engineering and math education.

Manufacturing is the heart and soul of our economy. It provides good-paying jobs with good benefits. The National Association of Manufacturers estimates that every $1 in manufactured goods generates an additional $1.37 worth of economic activity -- more than any other economic sector.

Charting a national manufacturing strategy will strengthen our economy and help to create good jobs and new opportunities.

Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., is chairman of the congressional Joint Economic Committee.