America Needs a National Manufacturing Policy. Now. (Sen. Sherrod Brown)

Not too long ago, the ticket to the middle class was straightforward. Work hard, play by the rules, and you'll have something to show for it -- a good wage, a secure job and home, and a solid pension.

Our nation -- and economy -- relied on workers around Ohio to build cars and appliances, to lay down rail lines and highways. Their work put them squarely in the middle class. Their work -- and a thriving manufacturing industry -- turned our nation into an economic superpower.
Job loss and wage stagnation figures reflect a decade's long decline in U.S. manufacturing, a decline that has shattered the American dream for millions of Americans. What these figures don't reflect is the enormous potential the manufacturing sector holds for revitalizing our economy and ensuring our nation remains an economic superpower. Robust manufacturing capacity is not only essential if we are to achieve energy independence and sustain the independent ability to equip our military, it is the key to global competitiveness in emerging markets. From clean energy to medical and information technology to global infrastructure needs -- our nation's global competitiveness depends on our nation's manufacturing sector.

To realize our full potential, we must stop ignoring the challenges that manufacturing faces. We need a national plan -- a national manufacturing policy -- that aligns federal actions with the goal of strengthening our manufacturing sector. Today, as Chairman of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Economic Policy, I am hosting a hearing to examine how best to develop a robust national manufacturing policy.

Some ideas we'll consider: Permanent research and development tax credits. Making these credits permanent would incentivize investment in clean energy manufacturing industries like solar and wind power. A strong and reliable business climate promotes incubators of innovation that help entrepreneurs excel in a 21st Century economy -- like the more than twenty incubators located at Ohio's universities and businesses from Youngstown to Columbus to Dayton.

We must also ensure that Ohio's auto supply and component manufacturers -- companies that make brake pads and engine parts for cars and trucks -- have what they need to keep jobs in Ohio by helping them expand into the emerging clean energy industry. In June, I introduced the Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology (IMPACT) Act, which would provide a $30 billion revolving loan fund to help manufacturers that make gear boxes or windshields for cars to make those same components for wind turbines or solar panels.

Ohio's skilled workers are the backbone of our economy and our middle class. A national manufacturing policy must invest in them by linking highly-skilled workers with businesses in emerging industries. In April, I introduced the Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act, which would allow businesses, workforce development boards, labor unions, and community colleges to determine workforce and community needs. SECTORS organizes workforce training around emerging industry clusters like biosciences and alternative energy manufacturing in the Cleveland area or solar power development in Toledo. By providing tailored workforce training for community and industry needs, we can create and retain jobs in Ohio and around the nation.

There should be a coordinated federal response when a community experiences massive job loss, the kind of job loss both Wilmington and Dayton have endured. The federal government has a strategy to assist communities hit by a natural disaster. We must follow the same protocol when a community is devastated by a major plant closing. President Obama's Director of Recovery for Auto Communities is working to coordinate the federal response to auto-related layoffs. We need the same level of coordination for other economically-distressed communities fighting for economic stability.

Our nation has one of the most open markets in the world, but we don't practice trade in our national interest. Our trade laws are not enforced, our trade deficit is expanding, and our communities are crushed by job losses. A national manufacturing policy must include fair trade policies that promote American manufacturing. Later his month, I'll be introducing the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment (TRADE) Act, which would ensure our trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, South Korea, or with any nation create a level playing field for U.S. manufacturing.

A robust national manufacturing policy will invest in Ohio's skilled workers to build our way to new opportunities in new industries. A Pew Report on Clean Energy notes that from 1998-2007, clean energy jobs grew in Ohio by 7.3 percent while all other jobs fell 2.2 percent. The report notes that Ohio is only one of seven states with such growth, and ranks fourth nationally in number of clean energy jobs. From public support to private research and development to venture capital investment, Ohio is forging a path to a revitalized manufacturing sector.

But Ohio's communities, skilled workers, and entrepreneurs need a national manufacturing policy now. It's a policy that promotes manufacturing, once again, as a ticket to the middle class.