Report: Manufacturing making strides but facing challenges

Manufacturing activity has made a comeback during the past three years as lawmakers look for legislative ways to boost the sector's growth, according to a congressional report released Tuesday. 

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), vice chairwoman of the Joint Economic Committee, released a new report showing that the sector has added 554,000 jobs since February of 2010 and exceeded its pre-recession peak for exports, which are up 38 percent since 2009.

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Klobuchar also outlined a four-pronged strategy for ensuring the gains continue and will focus on policies that strengthen the workforce and expand science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, open foreign markets to boost exports, expand access to capital, reduce regulatory burdens and streamline the tax code.

The strategy is part of a manufacturing initiative led by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).

"America is a country that innovates, makes things, and exports to the world, and manufacturing has long been an engine of economic growth and a key source of good jobs," Klobuchar said.

"This report highlights immediate, bipartisan actions Congress can take to strengthen American manufacturing, from cutting red tape to increase U.S. exports to boosting STEM education, and I will continue to work to move these initiatives forward so we can move our economy forward.”

Despite these positive trends, the sector needs to another 1.7 million jobs to return to pre-recession levels. 

Coons said the report underscores why Washington needs to turn its focus to the sector.

"Manufacturing jobs are high-quality jobs — they pay more in wages and benefits, create local service jobs and contribute significantly to the local economy," he said.

Another recent study showed that 83 percent of manufacturers said they were experiencing moderate to severe shortages of high-skilled workers.

Overall, there are about 600,000 jobs that manufacturers are having trouble filling because of the skills gap.

Klobuchar recently introduced bipartisan legislation with Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), which would create 100 new STEM high schools and supporting scientific research. 

She also has introduced a bipartisan bill with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that would cut back on unnecessary regulations for manufacturers.

Klobuchar’s report also analyzes the effect of 12 other Senate bills designed to strengthen manufacturing. 

The sector directly accounts for 12 percent of gross domestic product and employs more than 12 million people. For every $1 in manufactured goods it is estimated to generate $1.48 worth of additional economic activity.

The report says that the recent growth in manufacturing is partially due to companies bringing production back to the United States.  

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