01/28/2011 04:52 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Manufacturing Jobs Key to Winning the Future

Those of us in the freshman class elected to Congress in November arrived with a specific objective -- getting our economy moving again. However, our goal cannot be mere recovery.

The American people deserve and expect policies that will lead to an economy and job market stronger, more vibrant, and more prosperous than before. To achieve this, we need a renewed focus on sustaining and growing manufacturing -- one that centers on rewarding innovation and fostering entrepreneurship, and that ties those great American strengths to a great workforce.

I am encouraged that President Obama chose to highlight high-tech manufacturing competitiveness in his State of the Union address and its potential to create sustainable middle-class jobs. Unlike so many other sectors, with manufacturing it's not just about generating jobs but generating good jobs that pay a livable wage and provide quality health insurance.

For decades manufacturing jobs have been a reliable path to the middle class for millions of hard-working American families.

But that path is not nearly as wide as it was just ten years ago. Since then, our nation has lost more than three million manufacturing jobs, including nearly two million in 2008 and 2009 alone. As plants shut down, communities are flooded with skilled workers forced to take lower paying, unskilled jobs -- oftentimes two or three of them -- just to make ends meet.

The truth is, we're not going to be able to reopen all the plants that have closed and get those workers back on the assembly lines making the same products. What we can and must do is pursue a new manufacturing agenda, one that will lead to the creation of inventive businesses that will open new plants and hire educated workers for skilled and sustainable jobs -- one that will produce the next generation of American manufacturers.

While labor-driven commodity manufacturing may have moved to the developing world, we can still remain a world leader in innovative and high-performance manufacturing -- as we are today in industries ranging from aircraft to pharmaceuticals. To ensure that we do, our efforts must focus on creating a supportive environment in tax and trade policy, in education and training that matches the strength of American engineering and innovation.

Thankfully, we're not starting from scratch. Innovative businesses, including many from my home state of Delaware, have long been leaders in creating new manufacturing jobs based on new inventions.

Recently, companies such as DuPont, Ashland, Agilent and Perdue have invested in new facilities, new research or new production here. Delaware has also been a model for high-tech job growth with innovative local companies like ILC Dover, Solar Dock, and Miller Metal, as well as multinational companies like Sanosil, Motech, and Fraunhofer USA that have brought jobs here. I am proud that the many new products and technologies they invent are "Made in America, Manufactured in Delaware."

Another example is the old General Motors plant in Newport, Delaware. More than a thousand people lost their jobs when GM shut down the facility in 2009, one that had been in operation for more than sixty years and was long touted as one of the most productive in the country. Led by Governor Jack Markell, those of us in state and local government in Delaware were able to bring Fisker Automotive to Newport to take over and reinvest in the old General Motors plant. We did it by bringing together state and local officials, union leaders, and federal tax credits and investments.

When I asked Fisker Automotive's leaders what made them choose Delaware, it was a familiar answer -- a skilled and reliable workforce, responsive state and county governments, strong local infrastructure, and access to global markets through our roads, rails, and the Port of Wilmington.

We need to export this model and these successes all over the country. Delawareans are used to being first, and today we again find our state poised to be a leader in America's high-tech and clean energy manufacturing revolution.

I will ask my fellow Senators to support critical investments in public infrastructure, research and development, and education so we can replicate them across the country. Such investments must coincide with efforts to make it easier for Americans to start and expand small businesses and for multinational companies to locate advanced manufacturing here.

We can boost our manufacturing sector and get millions back to work, and with these investments we will build a strong, prosperous, and sustainable future for American's middle class.

We should never settle for just recovery. We must reach for the prosperity and growth I know we can achieve.