From the shop floor to the Capitol steps

Members of Congress often make a point of visiting manufacturers in their states or districts, and the reason is no surprise. We employ thousands of their constituents, help build the communities they represent and improve lives with our products and innovations.

As important as it is for our elected officials to step onto shop floors and meet with manufacturers and their 12 million employees, it is just as important for our nation’s job creators to visit lawmakers on their turf. Today, hundreds of manufacturers are on Capitol Hill, taking time away from their operations to meet with their members of Congress.

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Manufacturers are engaging lawmakers because we understand that Washington can help make the difference between tepid growth and a full-fledged manufacturing comeback.

Today, the stakes for manufacturers and their employees are high. For the first time ever, manufacturing contributed more than $2 trillion to the economy—taken alone, manufacturing would be the eighth-largest economy in the world. We’re creating jobs, and manufacturers once again are investing in America.

Manufacturers, however, aren’t celebrating just yet. With all the good news surrounding our sector, we can’t let optimism blind us to very real competitive disadvantages manufacturers continue to face in the United States. For example, we face a staggering regulatory burden, spending more than $14,000 per employee on compliance. Moreover, the United States has the dubious distinction of imposing the highest corporate tax rate in the world, and many small and medium-sized manufacturers who pay at individual rates are socked with an even higher marginal rate.

The fact is, innovation and a productive and dedicated workforce have spurred manufacturing’s recent success. We’ve been boosted by favorable developments abroad and a boom in energy production here at home. And we can do better—if Washington takes action on pro-growth and pro-manufacturing policy priorities.

When manufacturers storm Capitol Hill this week, they will highlight their contributions to innovation, their need for competitive policies and their ability to build and strengthen communities across the country.

Manufacturers drive more innovation than any other sector of the economy, performing two-thirds of the nation’s private-sector research and development (R&D). We, however, could do better—with a permanent and strengthened R&D credit, not the on-again/off-again credit manufacturers have had to deal with for the past three decades that impedes our ability to plan. Congress also can approve the Shaheen-Portman legislation, which encourages the adoption and development of energy-efficient technologies. Members of both parties support these objectives, and now it is time to get the job done.

As the United States stands still, other nations are eagerly looking to lure investment from our shores. Our best defense is pro-growth, competitive policies, such as a reformed tax code that spurs growth and investment in America by businesses of all sizes. Trade is another area where our nation is lagging. Manufacturers need a bold trade agenda that opens markets, eliminates barriers to commerce and ensures strong enforcement of trade rules. Congress must reauthorize the Export-Import Bank since it helps keep and create manufacturing jobs in America.

Energy is a bright spot in our economy, one that currently provides us with a significant competitive advantage, and policymakers must extend this advantage with an “all-of-the-above” strategy that promotes the development and use of the nation’s wealth of resources. A diverse energy mix is crucial to our energy security and our ability to adapt to volatile world energy markets.

Manufacturers are committed to continuing their legacy of building strong communities, particularly by providing jobs. Manufacturers are calling on Congress to ensure federal job training programs help close the skills gap, supplying workers with the tools they need to succeed in modern manufacturing. Manufacturers also help build communities—literally—by providing equipment and products needed to rebuild and modernize our nation’s infrastructure.

Those are just a few of the issues manufacturers will be taking to Capitol Hill. The list of steps the United States must take to improve the economy and strengthen manufacturing is long. And that’s all the more reason for Congress to take action now.

It won’t be easy, but manufacturers have always been up for a challenge.

Timmons is the president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.