Insiders say manufacturing still at a disadvantage

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There’s a deeper appreciation of what manufacturing can do for the struggling economy, but that has not resulted in more pro-manufacturing policies, according to a senior official of the National Association of Manufacturers who was in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

“The good news is that manufacturing has an outsized voice,” said Aric Newhouse, NAM senior vice president, in an interview. “We have what everybody is talking about: jobs and growth.”

But Mr. Newhouse, who spoke at the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s Made in PA Expo at the Monroeville Convention Center, said federal policies on energy, taxes, trade and other issues continue to put the industry at a disadvantage. He cited what the association calls the White House’s “meritless” decision to put off deciding whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canadian crude oil to Gulf Coast refineries. The White House announced the latest delay Friday.

According to the association, manufacturing contributes about $2 trillion to the U.S. economy annually, accounting for about 12 percent of the overall economy. Mr. Newhouse said manufacturing employment is still 1.7 million jobs below pre-recession levels.

Rising energy costs were one concern of those who listened to his speech Wednesday, Mr. Newhouse said. One person told him the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to limit emissions from coal-powered electric generating plants is raising energy costs for manufacturers in Pennsylvania and other states that rely on coal-generated energy.

A 2011 National Association of Manufacturers study found that, despite lower energy costs, U.S. manufacturers were at a 20 percent cost disadvantage compared to manufacturers located in countries that are major U.S. trading partners.

“The EPA is sitting there saying, ‘We’re going to make that hole deeper,’ ” Mr. Newhouse said.

He said the association’s support of exporting liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is based on the organization’s belief in free trade. Some groups oppose the exports, saying they will erode the sizable advantage energy-intensive U.S. businesses enjoy.

Mr. Newhouse said if U.S. officials complain about limits China puts on exports on rare earth minerals, they can expect China and other countries to object to limiting exports of U.S. natural gas.

“The export of LNG is about free trade,” he said.


Len Boselovic: 412-263-1941 or lboselovic@post-gazette.com

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