There's much at stake in the next presidential election. From Iraq to health care, voters have a lot riding on the outcome. The same holds true for jobs, trade and manufacturing issues. While the voters of Pennsylvania know that there are problems, the candidates have yet to figure it out. My guess is they'll soon catch on.
Presidential campaigns with an eye toward the general election know all too well that winning Pennsylvania is no easy task. Pennsylvania voters supported Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, Bill Clinton in the 1990s and John Kerry by a very narrow margin in 2004.
The presidential candidates who emerge as their party's nominees will be spending countless days in Pennsylvania and they will have ample time to learn about the issues that are important to the state's voters. Any candidate looking for a head start to November 2008 would be wise to articulate a positive, forward-looking vision on how to strengthen manufacturing in Pennsylvania and across our nation.
There is no sector more critical to Pennsylvania's future than manufacturing; it is still the largest contributor to the state's economy.
But 202,000 factory jobs have been shed over the past seven years. Plant closings and layoffs have no doubt contributed to the wave of personal bankruptcies and mortgage foreclosures. When a manufacturing facility shutters, it means more than just a lost job for a worker. It also produces a devastating ripple effect, with families struggling and the social fabric of communities being torn apart.
But when manufacturing flourishes, the rest of Pennsylvania's economy flourishes. That's because a manufacturing worker supports as many as four or five other jobs: suppliers, service providers and mom-and-pop shops. Retail and service jobs simply don't provide that kind of added value.
Is the decline of manufacturing a fact of life, irreversible and, in fact, as some would argue, desirable in today's "new" economy? Nothing could be further from the truth.
Manufacturing jobs continue to provide one of the best ways to climb the ladder to the American dream for millions of families. Manufacturing supports two-thirds of all private-sector U.S. research and nearly 80 percent of our patents. We risk losing this unless manufacturing is revitalized.
But our national leaders just don't get it. Most industrialized nations have policies to grow domestic manufacturing. Export powerhouses like Brazil, Japan, South Korea and Germany actively support their domestic industries. America does not.
American workers and manufacturers are not asking for a handout; they simply want trade rules to be enforced and to have the same opportunity to compete in the global marketplace.
Regrettably, many policy decisions drive our jobs overseas. Trade deals that are poorly negotiated and enforced, health-care costs, taxes and energy policy all determine whether or not our workers and manufacturers will be able to compete in the global arena.
There is no single solution that will make manufacturing more competitive; it will take a significant shift in course to turn things around. Already, a flood of illegally subsidized Chinese imports is entering the U.S. market. Unsafe consumer products like lead-laced toys and recalled cribs are well publicized, but China's other trade practices threaten to eliminate even more manufacturing jobs.
Chinese steelmakers have received at least $52 billion in direct and indirect subsidies from their government over the past five years. China misaligns its currency to give it a trade advantage which results in a 40 percent discount on Chinese exports to the United States and a 40 percent tax on our exports to China.
That's not the free market at work. It's cheating, and it must stop.
The power, Pennsylvania voters, is in your hands. You may not work in manufacturing, but chances are, your friends, family, schools and corner grocery all depend on a vibrant manufacturing base. The candidates are on their way. They'll soon be hosting town hall meetings, showing up at rallies and knocking on your door. Demand that they answer these questions:
• As president, how will you save American manufacturing jobs?
• What specific policies will you support to strengthen the American manufacturing base, which is vital to our economic and national security?
• What steps will you take to enforce our trade laws and hold cheating countries like China accountable?
A leading role in 2008 awaits you. You can keep it made in Pennsylvania.
Scott Paul is executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a partnership of several leading U.S. manufacturers and United Steelworkers. AAM is sponsoring a free town hall meeting on manufacturing at the Heinz History Center in the Strip District today at 6:30 p.m.