Lipinski Calls for National Strategy
The Beverly Review
August 18, 2010
By Patrick Thomas
While President Barack Obama touted optimism during his visit to the Ford plant on Chicago's Southeast Side on Aug. 5, all is not well on the nation's manufacturing front.
After 110 years, the United States is poised to lose its crown as the biggest manufacturing nation as measured by output. China is poised to surpass the U.S. in factory production in 2011, officials said.
Even though the Beverly area that is served by U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) is not considered a hotbed of manufacturing, he is not wasting time in trying to get the country back on top. On July 29, Lipinski passed a bill in the U.S. House that aims to create the nation's first strategic plan for manufacturing.
"I think there is strong support for a manufacturing strategy because of concerns that America is falling economically. Because we are not manufacturing like we used to, it's hard to find the 'Made in USA' label."
In the last decade, a third of the nation's manufacturing jobs have disappeared, and 2.1 million jobs have been lost since November 2007, Lipinski said. Citing those figures and polling data from both Republicans and Democrats about a national manufacturing strategy, Lipinski believes there is demand for change. Despite changing manufacturing technologies, Lipinski doesn't believe those job losses were inevitable.
"When I saw the results of the polls, it did not surprise me at all. Since I have been in Congress, all I have heard is that people in Washington have turned a blind eye to the world of manufacturing," Lipinski said.
His bill, which passed in the U.S. House with a convincing vote of 379 to 38, requires Obama to establish a Manufacturing Strategy Board within the U.S. Commerce Department that includes federal officials, two state governors from different political parties and nine private-sector leaders and stakeholders from the manufacturing industry. The board will conduct a comprehensive analysis of the manufacturing sector, covering everything from trade issues to financing to the defense industrial base.
Based on that analysis, the president's board will then develop a national manufacturing strategy that includes short- and long-term goals for the manufacturing industry and specific recommendations on how to achieve those goals. The recommendations may include actions that can be taken by the president, congress, state and local governments, the private sector, universities and industry associations. They may also include ways to improve government policies and coordination among federal agencies that impact manufacturing.
The first strategy will be due one year after the bill becomes law, and subsequent strategies are due every four years, in the second year of each presidential term. U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) will introduce the bill in the Senate, and Lipinski said he is confident it can be passed by year's end.
Where the U.S. lacks in such strategies, other countries have established plans. Lipinski said Germany, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Japan and China have all created manufacturing strategies. But as news surfaced that the U.S. monthly trade deficit spiked to nearly $50 billion in June, rising to its highest level in nearly two years, Lipinski said Americans should be crying foul. American exports are falling, and imports are rising. China is playing by different rules, he said. The Chinese pay lower wages and have lower currency values.
"I think the United States should be retaliating against the Chinese government. The Chinese government is holding the Chinese currency at a low value, and that hurts our exports to China," Lipinski said.
He said lawmakers must place tariffs on imports from China to convince the Chinese government to stop manipulating its currency. The U.S. must come to the aid of U.S. manufacturers that are competing with China and other nations.
But that hasn't been the case in areas like Chicago, where the city has increased environmental laws and pushed for more storefront shops and retail development. As a result, gone are the manufacturers and the jobs. Lipinski believes new technology will need to redefine manufacturing in a productive and environmentally conscious way.
"Manufacturing is producing any sort of product, but there are going to be new manufacturing jobs, new industries that develop new products, whether it's alternative energy, solar panels, new batteries for energy storage, and nanotechnology that is not going to be produced in big, heavy manufacturing plants. These products are going to be produced in smaller plants, things you do not think about, especially in this area," Lipinski said. "There are going to be new opportunities, and I think we need to make sure the United States stays on the cutting edge."
Those new opportunities can potentially make the U.S. a manufacturing leader and also create jobs in Third District communities like Beverly Hills/Morgan Park and Mt. Greenwood. Jobs are a hot topic here currently, the congressman said.
"People have just not focused on manufacturing and the importance of manufacturing to our country, but I think more people are looking at it more than ever now because people are out of work. They are asking where are the new jobs going to come from," Lipinski said. "We can't have everybody working at McDonalds and Wal-Mart."
The Third District's biggest manufacturing communities are in Bedford Park, Bridgeview, Burbank and Cicero, but closer to Beverly, manufacturing still exists in the small facilities that Lipinski pointed to.
The family-run Beverly Shear Manufacturing Corporation, 3004 W. 111th St., is no stranger to difficult economic times. Started in the late 1920s, just prior to the Great Depression, the Nebel Family's business has manufactured shears for cutting sheet metal for more than 80 years.
Val Chavez has worked there for 31 years. He said the height of the business during his time there was in the mid- 1980s. Back then, 12 employees worked in the shop. On a recent Friday morning in August, he and welder Dan Altier were the only staff at work.
In an unpredictable economy with orders slowing down from distributors and auto manufactures, Chavez said there are obvious concerns about his job.
"Oh, heck yeah," he said. "The first four months after last August, we weren't getting the orders we used to. It was getting hairy around here. It was week to week. Accounts are low. Money is low. With all that sinking in my head, I was worried about my job."
Because of those challenges, the Nebel Family has needed to cut back on staff. Now when orders pick up, Chavez is in over his head.
"Orders are up. I'm doing the job of three guys," Chavez said. "It's like a rollercoaster."
It's also tough work. At Beverly Shear, employees weld, mill, shape, drill, tap and polish the metal to make the 60-pound shears that workers have to lift and manipulate during production.
Altier said business is a challenge because the quality of the product it produces is so high.
"These things are built so good that you don't need to buy a new one for a long time," Altier said.
Then how do manufacturers survive?
"You don't change the quality," Altier said. "You maintain it and hope the economy turns around."
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