As a mayor and as president of a coalition of nine small cities in the Steel Valley, I am inspired every day by examples of kindness and solidarity, sharing and sacrifice in the face of economic devastation. It is because of this courage and compassion that I recently wrote to President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney.
I asked them to come to Allegheny County to debate -- to explain their plans to restore manufacturing jobs to America and to revive the small towns and cities whose industries have been shuttered and outsourced. I asked this on behalf of my constituents, the Steel Valley Council of Governments, the Allegheny Labor Council, the Steel Valley Enterprise Zone, the Homestead Lions Club, the Steel Valley School District, the Steel Valley Rotary and the Park Business Association.
Whether they come or not, individually or together, the leaders and citizens of small cities like ours that thrived on manufacturing must hear concrete plans from the president and the former governor on how they will help us get actual job-creating investment to restore the economic health of our communities and hope to our people.
The economic problems we live with now had their origins in the 1970s, grew in the '80s, ebbed in the '90s, accelerated after 2000 and peaked in the first months of 2009. Some say that outsourcing was an inevitable result of globalization -- something akin to God's laws and impossible to change. Others believe it was all done by big money for big money -- and can be changed if we have the political will to change it.
I honestly don't know which is right, but I do know one thing: The wonderful people of our valley, who, like the unemployed or underemployed across our country, disproportionately bear the burden of this economic meltdown and they deserve answers. We want to hear from our presidential candidates. We deserve the momentary presence of these candidates here, where we live and struggle to find a way forward.
We believe that manufacturing matters. We believe that towns and small cities are the canaries in the coal mine, both a measure and a portent of how America fares now and will fare in the future. Between 2000 and 2010, we saw 5.7 million jobs disappear -- the greatest loss of manufacturing jobs since the Great Depression. Recently, we have seen a bounce-back with a half-million new manufacturing jobs -- the first growth since the 1990s. But it hasn't had anywhere near the impact here that we need.
The solid citizens of the Steel Valley are having a hard time seeing a future of promise and opportunity. At the same time, I know we want to believe. We can carry on if our leaders can carry our concerns, present concrete plans to address them and show us how they'll translate their plans into action.
Now, it's true that President Obama was handed the worst recession since the Great Depression, and we know that we are better off now than we were when he took office. But still, we struggle. The mission is not accomplished, and our cities and our country need a plan to take us to a future with jobs for every person who is able and help for those who are not. We need to hear these candidates' plans so that we can judge for ourselves.
The campaign spokespeople and the operatives on the debate commission say the debates are set in stone. Deliberated. Decided. Done. But the candidates have the final say. At the very least, each should visit on his own and talk with us directly.
But even if the candidates don't come to our valley, we need to be convinced that at least one of them can be trusted to invest in manufacturing jobs here, where we need them. We need to hear and see a plan that is specific and measurable.
Ray Bodnar is mayor of the Borough of Munhall and president of the Steel Valley Council of Governments.