Young manufacturers hit Capitol Hill

A group of Generation X manufacturers visited Hill offices yesterday hoping to breathe life into three bills they say will help their industry survive to their retirement.

Each measure faces long odds in a short legislative calendar, but manufacturing representatives were still hopeful they could find a late-arriving vehicle for one or more of their priorities.

One such bill, sponsored by Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), would define Chinese currency manipulation as an illegal trade subsidy subject to countervailing duties levied by the United States. The measure has 173 co-sponsors but has been hung up in the House Ways & Means Committee.

American manufacturers believe their Chinese counterparts can undersell them by as much as 40 percent in the global marketplace because the government undervalues the Chinese currency.

Carl Michaelsen, who operates ODM Tool & Manufacturing in McCook, Ill., said the currency advantage amounts to a 40-yard head start in a 100-yard dash.

Michaelsen is a member of a group called the Next Generation of Manufacturers, a subset of the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA), which sponsored the door knock day yesterday.

The group is also backing The American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act, a measure sponsored by Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich) that would require the Commerce Department and International Trade Commission to allow groups such as toolmakers that consume raw materials to participate in trade cases.

The bill would also force the trade commission to use an economic impact test that weighs the effect of tariffs across the manufacturing industry as a whole.

PMA members argue that tariffs on imported steel have made it more difficult to compete with foreign companies that can buy the steel more cheaply. They argue that steel consuming industries employ far more workers than the steel industry itself.

Jeanne Swanson, of E & E Manufacturing in Plymouth, Mich., which employs around 300 people, said her company lost out on a contract because a global rival could make the tool below the price that E & E could buy the steel.

"We are not protectionists," said Swanson, who is the third generation of her family to work at E&E. But, she added, her company and others suffer from "unnecessary duties that drive up the price of steel."

One steel lobbyist said the duties were necessary to protect the domestic industry against foreign competitors that dump their steel, or sell below production costs, in U.S. markets.

"It is bad public policy to allow unfair trade practices simply because it benefits a certain segment of the economy," the lobbyist said of the Knollenberg bill.

Proponents of the bills acknowledge the chances of their passage may be slim.

Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.), the chairman of the Small business Committee, said manufacturers don't have as many natural political allies anymore. Only 50 of the 435 congressional districts have what he said was a "sizable manufacturing base to grab attention" of lawmakers.

Manzullo's district is one of the 50. Winnebago County is only behind Wayne County, where Detroit is located, in terms of the numbers of workers employed in manufacturing.

Educating colleagues on the issues facing manufacturing can be difficult, he said.

"It takes time to build momentum," Manzullo said.
 
The manufacturing group also supports a controversial healthcare measure that would allow trade groups like PMA to offer healthcare to their members.