Bill aims to put U.S. back on manufacturing front
August 5, 2010
By Jesse Marx
A bill intended to help revitalize America’s manufacturing industries, including those in Chicago’s southwest suburbs, was passed last week by the U.S. House of Representatives.
[U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski’s National Manufacturing Strategy Act] aims to stem manufacturing job losses by establishing a board that makes short- and long-term strategic recommendations for governments, private companies, universities and industry associations.
"A strong manufacturing sector is critical to leading America out of recession. Over the last decade, we have lost one-third of all domestic manufacturing jobs," said Lipinski, who cited a study by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis.
The bill passed the House 379 to 38 and will be introduced soon in the Senate by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich).
"I am optimistic that we can pass the measure this year," Lipinski said.
If approved and signed by President Barack Obama, it would require Obama to establish a Manufacturing Strategy Board within the Commerce Department that includes federal officials, two state governors from different parties, and nine private-sector leaders from the manufacturing industry.
"This is a solidly bipartisan bill," said Nathaniel Zimmer, a spokesman for Lipinski.
The first strategy recommendations would be due one year after the bill became law and subsequent strategies would be due every four years. The Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan watchdog, would analyze the implementation of strategy. Public hearings would be held prior to recommendations and a draft of the report would be made available for public comment 30 days before publishing.
Lipinski said the primary goal of the board would be to speak with various federal departments that impact manufacturing on behalf of the needs and demands of national, regional and local business owners.
"We want to centralize a place and make sure that the different departments are working together," the congressman said. "The departments of agriculture, education, energy, homeland security, labor and transportation all have programs that are supposed to help manufacturers, but they are very disjointed. [The Strategy Board] will bring them together."
Members of the board would not be paid for their service and any costs associated with their recommendations would be "minimal," Lipinski said. The bill has garnered support from a number of manufacturing organizations including Alliance for American Manufacturing, and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
"After 35 years in the industry, I can tell you America’s manufacturing strategy, insofar as we have one, isn’t getting the job done," said William M. Hickey, president of Lapham-Hickey Steel in Bedford Park. "Our economy has become totally imbalanced due to outsourcing and an overemphasis on financial services."
Lipinski cited Hickey as a possible candidate to fill one of the nine private-sector positions on the board.
"You don’t go into a big football game without a game plan," said Zach Mottl, owner of Atlas Tool and Dye in Lyons. "All other manufacturing countries have a game plan. We’re out here often feeling like we’re flying by night."
Mottl, who chairs the Tooling and Manufacturing Association Government Relations Committee, said he employs 80 people and sells tools to vendors that live in the 3rd Congressional District, which includes parts of Palos Heights and Palos Park, and all of Palos Hills, Chicago Ridge, Hickory Hills and Oak Lawn.
"When one guy in the region benefits, we all benefit," Mottl said.
Most economists consider the loss of manufacturing jobs — and the transition from agriculture to manufacturing to services — to be the natural progression of a market-oriented economy. The loss of manufacturing jobs also demonstrates an economic concept known as comparative advantage: Those countries that can produce a particular good at a lower opportunity cost should produce that good, for the benefit of all its trading partners.
"I have heard the argument," Lipinski said. "The service sector is definitely important in our country ... but I really believe, and most Americans agree, that it is important that a country does not lose its manufacturing base."
According to an Alliance for American Manufacturing poll released last month, 78 percent of Americans want to stop outsourcing jobs to China and other countries.
As the Chicago metropolitan area began de-industrializing in the 1990s, many manufacturers moved to the south suburbs and beyond in search of cheaper property taxes and labor. Landis Plastics, now controlled by Berry Plastics Corporation, owned a plant at Central Avenue and Pleasant Boulevard in Chicago Ridge for decades before moving to Alsip. A representative from the company could not be reached for comment.
Lipinski said other developed countries such as Japan, Germany and Brazil understand the importance of their manufacturing industry because it pays higher wages, impacts local communities and provides the goods for national security.
"We are losing our ability to manufacture [defense] goods," Lipinski said. "It will force us to rely on other countries for our national security, and that’s an issue that’s hard for any American to disagree with."
The congressman said his goal for a long time has been to bring nanotechnology manufacturing firms and universities, like Northwestern, that lead nanotechnology research to the 3rd District.
"I always encourage those involved in high tech industries to look into places in my district where there are closed factories," he said. "Those are new jobs in new industries."
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