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Erie, PA Town Hall: "No Country Ever Went Broke Investing in Its Own People"

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Last night's "Keep It Made In America" Town Hall meeting was at the Bayfront Convention Center in Erie, Pennsylvania. Kyle Foust, Chairman of the Erie County Council welcomed the attendees and led off the Town Hall meeting, quoting Hubert Humphrey: "No country ever went broke by investing in its own people."

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I recently spoke with a Tea Party member who did not know that it is government that builds the roads, airports, sewer systems, etc. that make up the infrastructure that is the foundation of our country's ability to have companies at all. He actually thought that private companies do this, and that "government spending" just "takes money out of the economy." Maybe this is why so many candidates in this election say that "government spending" is bad but will not say, no matter how hard they are pressed, what spending they plan to cut in their quest for "smaller government."

The Town Hall

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Following a Unitarian invocation by Rev Steve Aschmann, Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) -- the organization that is putting on these "Keep It Made In America" Town Hall events -- explained what AAM is about, strengthening manufacturing in this country. Scott gave the audience several facts about manufacturing:
  • 74% of Tea Party supporters support more manufacturing, as do 82% of union members.
  • 563,500 in Pennsylvania work in the manufacturing sector
  • This is down from 864,000 in 2000
  • And represents a 35% cut in manufacturing jobs.

Candidates Speak

Two local House candidates spoke at this meeting. Mike Kelley, Republican candidate for Congress spoke first.

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"We can't control unfair competition. Just make it fair, that's all, make it fair. Enforce the rules. We play by the rules, other people don't. Chinese currency."

Q: "Will you support buy American policies?" A: Who would not? Especially in taxpayer-funded projects.
Q: "Hold China accountable?" A: The world has been waiting for America to take the lead. China has to be held accountable when they break the rules.
Q: "Policies?" Competition, we never back away from competition. We need to get a national strategy in place. Taxes -- need a VAT. Others all do it. (Note, Kelley's answer is good for manufacturing. Short explanation: Other countries use a VAT to boost their manufacturing sector. Their manufacturers get a VAT rebate, but goods imported from the US do not, so in effect a VAT is a either a subsidy of their companies or a tariff on imports from us.)

Next up was his opponent in the race, Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper:

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We need to get back to a manufacturing economy, to provide that good family-sustaining wage.

How to keep it made in America, three points:
1) Close the loopholes, Republicans's did not vote with us on this. My opponent has pledged, signed a pledge no to remove the tax advantages given to companies for moving factories out of the country and outsourcing American jobs. (Note see my post on this today.)
2) Stop China's cheating. Everyone knows China cheats. The currency bill, voted for it, the Chamber of Commerce -- that's the national Chamber which is a very different thing from the local Chambers -- is against it. We also have to stop China's illegal trade practices and dumping (selling below cost to capture markets).
3) Invest in our domestic manufacturing base. The COMPETES act has passed the House, but Senate... Education.

Raw materials -- rare earth elements, China is saying they can get these IF they bring manufacturing to their country.
We can produce them here, but don't. Because China subsidizes, it is not profitable to start production here.

The Panel

This Town Hall's panel of local experts:
• Kenneth Boothe Jr., General Manager, Donjon Ship Builders
• Reverend Jeffery Priscaro, St. Ann's church
• Ron Oliver, Community Labor Leader
• Tim Ryan President, Apex Offshore Wind.
• David J. Rosenberg, Head of Marketing, North America Gamesa Energy
• Hillary Bright, Blue/Green Alliance Field Organizer.

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Priscaro -- When people make things It create sjobsm, revenue, they buy houses, participate in economy.

Ryan -- Windmills, local wind turbines on old steel mill site, made in the US. Sun Ray project in Texas used GE wind turbines, GE Transport made the gearboxes. Gemasa, of Sain, has set up manufacturing near here. The Export/Import bank financing requires high local content. We need a national Renewable Energy Standard, then there is a tremendous opportunity for American manufacturing in wind energy.

Oliver -- the effect on people of losing job, moving, move in with mom, manufacturing is the heartbeat of America.

Boothe -- Donjon has recently gone from 13 employees, in 10 months have 118. 125 by end of year, 150 then up to 250.

Bright -- Labor and environmentalists share common goals Hadn't recognized how intertwined manufacturing is with a healthy community, environment, wages, families, healthy communities. And healthy environment. The way we see America in future generations, manufacturing is key to recognizing that.

Q: "Where are we going to get jobs? We need the infrastructure rebuilt, everything reconstructed. How?"

Bright -- AAM, others have recognized that one of the largest opportunities is in clean energy. The stimulus was a down payment. Opportunity at federal policy level like Renewable Energy Standard to create the market and the demand to get it going, otherwise we lose the race to countries like China.

Oliver -- We need to create the jobs here, the stimulus was using money to buy windmills made in China.

Ryan -- We need new power plants as well as wind energy power plants. National policy has been up and down up and down, industry can't survive on federal programs that last 6 months or a year, we need national policy that looks at the next 20 years or so.

Priest, we lost jobs because of legislation, we can gina jobs by legislation.

Q: "What can we do to stop the leak of jobs from US?"

Scott Paul: Stop tax breaks to ship jobs overseas.

(Note -- All pictures by Ike Gittlen, USW, with permission. Click any pic for enlargement, see the entire collection here.)

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.

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