Rebuild U.S. manufacturing

Both Republicans and Democrats should rally to this cause

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The contentious and often nasty public debates over health care reform and other issues can lead Americans to a truly depressing conclusion -- that polarization is always going to win out over unity, leading to a weakening of our national fiber and character.

It doesn't have to be that way. On at least one issue, there is widespread unity from Pittsburgh to Providence to Peoria to the Pacific -- it's time for our nation to make things again. When it comes to rebuilding our manufacturing sector, Democrats and Republicans alike are listening.

A public opinion earthquake greeted the news earlier this year that a consortium of energy companies had applied for federal stimulus funds to order wind turbines made in China for a west Texas wind farm. You don't have to live in the rust belt, like residents of Pittsburgh, to know what runaway industry is all about, but it helps.

In response to the protests about the Texas wind farm, a broad coalition of groups -- from labor unions to the Alliance for American Manufacturing -- successfully pushed for Buy America protections in the jobs bill passed in March. And the new language was supported by Democrats and Republicans alike.

The unemployment rate for U.S. production workers is three times greater than the jobless rate for white-collar professionals. Economists are alarmed that this disparity is equivalent to figures from the Great Depression. Strong legislative and political medicine is needed and fast. Some is already in the works:

• New legislation proposed by Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and others would require federally funded clean-energy projects to use domestically manufactured components to help create industrial jobs in the United States. This measure would favor entrepreneurs who have a commitment to domestic manufacturing, allowing them to compete with multinational companies who are in the tank with foreign supply chains.

• Ninety Democrats and 40 Republicans in the House have urged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to apply countervailing duties on Chinese products to defend U.S. companies that have been hurt by China's undervalued currency.

• The Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act of 2009 has 137 co-sponsors in the House. The bill requires a review of existing trade agreements including NAFTA, the WTO and other major pacts, and sets tougher standards for new agreements.

This isn't just more gobbledygook from Washington. These measures and others like them could be the basis for an industrial revival. The president himself has put forward a long-term manufacturing agenda that calls for strengthening the educational and infrastructure support for manufacturing -- the same kind of policies that Germany and some of our other competitors have long used to strengthen their base.

Maybe we'll never get back to the post-World War II days when our country was the world's only industrial power, but we've got to start somewhere and regain as much ground as possible.

Politicians need to get real. Research shows that every new manufacturing job spurs the creation of four or five other jobs and increases economic vitality for surrounding communities. As we have all seen with our own eyes, the reverse is true as well. It's time to get back on the plus side of the equation.

As candidates travel across our state gearing up for the November elections, I hope that Pittsburgh residents ask all of them -- Democrats and Republicans -- whether they are ready to support these legislative initiatives and others to put Americans back to work.

When the land of opportunity becomes the land of lost dreams, America stops being America. Let's fix that before it's too late.


Edwin D. Hill , a native of Beaver County, is president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ( www.ibew.org ).


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