HARRISBURG -- Republicans and Democrats in the state House often clash over political and legislative issues.
But on one important subject -- how to promote manufacturing in Pennsylvania -- there is cooperation, both politically and geographically.
In an effort to boost companies engaged in manufacturing, House Republicans and Democrats have formed a new bipartisan caucus, with 95 legislators from around the state. That's almost half of the 203 members in the House.
The group has two co-chairmen: Rep. Eli Evankovich, a Westmoreland County Republican, and Rep. John Galloway, a Democrat from Bucks County, which is just north of Philadelphia.
"If we are going to move our state forward economically, manufacturers must want to move into Pennsylvania and those who are here must want to stay here," said Mr. Evankovich, who worked for U.S. Steel for several years before entering politics.
Such firms -- which produce steel, motorcycles and medical products, make machine and auto parts, engage in tool and die work, package potato chips and other foods -- provide jobs to more than 564,000 state residents and contribute $71 billion a year to the state's economy, he said.
"The continued success and future growth of the manufacturing sector are important to all parts of the state and every legislative district," he said. "The caucus will assist that effort by focusing on manufacturing issues and related legislation."
Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg, who retired from U.S. Steel after more than 30 years, agreed.
"The average salary in manufacturing is $55,000 a year," he said. "These are family-sustaining jobs. We can't have all jobs be in the service sector. We need manufacturing."
The bipartisan caucus, formed in June, met for the first time here June 28, before the Legislature recessed for the summer. More meetings are likely this fall, after legislators return to the Capitol.
In addition, over the summer, caucus members will visit several manufacturing companies, in the western, central and eastern parts of the state.
One likely destination is the Ellwood City Group in Beaver County, a forge where metal parts are made, Mr. Evankovich said. In York County, south of Harrisburg, a visit is likely to the Harley Davidson motorcycle plant, along with a military contractor called BAE Systems. Firms near Philadelphia are also on the list, possibly the Gamesa plant in Bucks County, where windmill blades and turbines are made to create electrical power from wind.
"We want to show legislators what the challenges of manufacturers are, as well as letting the companies showcase their products," he said.
Caucus members also will consider new legislation to help manufacturers grow, such as the cost of workers' compensation and unemployment compensation, tax matters, transportation and "workforce development," training young people so they are qualified to handle manufacturing work.
A large goal for the caucus is getting a $2 billion transportation bill moving again. The bill, pushed by Gov. Tom Corbett, got bogged down in June when supporters of liquor privatization tried to combine that issue with transportation funding -- and both issues hit a logjam. Mr. Evankovich said manufacturers want to improve shipping by significantly improving state roads, bridges, rail lines and mass transit.
Another caucus goal is to raise the public profile of manufacturers, making people more aware of the jobs the companies create and considering new bills to help them.
One major issue is likely to be taxes. To make the state more attractive to manufacturers, Mr. Kortz said, Keystone Opportunity Zones, or KOZs, were created several years ago. These allow vacant land or old, empty warehouses to be turned into production sites once again through a 10-year tax break for the new developers.
A KOZ was created six years ago for Allegheny Technology so it could develop a new $1 billion strip steel mill in Brackenridge. When it opens in December it will turn out titanium steel slabs used for airplane parts, he said.
Helping manufacturers almost certainly will have a "multiplier effect" on local businesses that supply products to the plants, Mr. Kortz added.
"Each steelworker provides jobs for six other workers," such as companies that provide chemicals, truck drivers and local food providers.
Autoworkers have an even greater multiplier effect, he said, creating jobs for steelworkers, tire and glassmakers and other suppliers.
Tom Barnes, freelance writer: email@example.com.