Manufacturing a Dream and a Recovery

02/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Scott Paul President, Alliance for American Manufacturing

Barack Obama knows the story of American manufacturing firsthand. He cut his political teeth as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago in the shadow of shuttered steel mills, working to salvage hopes and dreams that had been crushed by the weight of layoffs and economic decline. As President, he can authoritatively recall America's industrial heritage and decline, but more importantly, President Obama can lead the nation to a renaissance in American manufacturing.

Manufacturing has boosted the American economy, jobs, and wages for generations dating back to World War II. Recently, it has fallen on very hard times. Nearly one in four manufacturing jobs has vanished since 2000, and 40,000 factories have closed since 1998. Last year, manufacturing accounted for nearly a third of all lost jobs in the U.S., while factory ordered plummeted to record lows.

The health of manufacturing is important even for those who do not hold factory jobs. That is because manufacturing jobs pay better wages than other forms of employment -- twenty percent above the U.S. average. Manufacturing jobs also have a stronger multiplier effect -- supporting as many as five other jobs -- thus contributing disproportionately to the economy. Manufacturers are large local taxpayers, supporting vital public services and schools in communities across the nation. American manufactured products tend to have a much smaller pollution footprint than Chinese products, and we are already deploying new technologies to compete in the clean energy economy of tomorrow. Finally, our national security depends on a strong defense industrial base to supply our troops and protect our interests.

If the creative destruction of capitalism and the arc of history were responsible for American manufacturing's steep decline, there would be a legitimate debate about whether or not it is worth saving. But public policies have contributed tremendously to the predicament we now face; smarter public policies can get us on the path to recovery.

Wall Street's woes and the collapse of the housing bubble are bear some responsibility for manufacturing's current condition. Credit markets and consumer demand have dried up, idling factories all over the nation. A substantial, strategic, and sustained economic stimulus package is needed for the overall health of the economy, as well as to boost manufacturing.

The stimulus should focus on investments in infrastructure such as mass transit, a smart energy grid, roads and bridges, which not only provide the greatest return on investment for American taxpayers by generating more jobs and economic growth than any type of tax cut, but will also make us more competitive in the long run. A sizable stimulus that includes a $148 billion annual new infrastructure investment can create up to 2.6 million jobs, including more than 252,000 in manufacturing. But manufacturing job gains are reduced by one-third unless all infrastructure materials are sourced domestically.

Dramatically reducing America's trade deficit -- which stood at a record $700 billion in 2007 -- will also boost manufacturing. American workers and companies often face global competition subsidized by governments, as well as violations of intellectual property, disregard of reasonable labor laws, and non-enforcement of environmental regulations. Governments such as China's artificially lower the value of their currencies to gain a trade advantage. Simply enforcing domestic and international trade laws designed to ensure a level playing field, while ending subsidies and currency misalignment will boost our exports, reduce our trade deficit, and create jobs.

If President Obama delivers on a manufacturing agenda, every American will benefit. He will also offer a new generation of Americans the same opportunity as their parents and grandparents had: to achieve the American Dream and join the ranks of the middle class.