Time to invest in national manufacturing policy

The history of our nation shows that workers helped transition our nation from one industry to the next, driving innovation, and creating economic prosperity for workers, communities and industry alike.

It’s time once again to invest in our workers. It’s time to invest in a national manufacturing policy.

As Ohioans understand, manufacturing is a ticket to the middle class. A strong middle class makes a strong nation.

That’s why American workers deserve a manufacturing policy that works for them.

Manufacturing accounts for more than 10 percent of our entire economy and nearly three-fourths of our nation’s industrial research and development. Manufacturing jobs pay 20 percent more, on average, than service jobs.

I applaud the President Obama’s decision to tap Ron Bloom as his point person for a national strategy that helps manufacturers transition to the 21st century economy.

Our nation must establish a national manufacturing policy that once again invests in our most important asset: the American worker.

In the Senate Banking Committee’s Economic Policy Subcommittee that I chair, we have looked at the elements of a national manufacturing strategy:

We must invest in manufacturing innovation. We should make research-and-development tax credits permanent to incentivize investment in emerging manufacturing industries like clean energy. A reliable business climate, for example, would support business incubators to promote innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the nation.

This week, I introduced the Business Incubator Promotion Act of 2009, which would help create new businesses and expand existing ones while fostering economic development and revitalization of towns, cities and regions across our nation.

A national manufacturing strategy must strengthen our component supply chain. Companies that make the parts for cars and trucks should be able to expand to make component parts for other industries, like clean energy, aerospace or biotechnology. The Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology (IMPACT) Act that I introduced in June, and was included in the House climate change bill, would provide a $30 billion revolving loan fund to help component manufacturers transition to the clean energy economy.

We must better connect workers with jobs in emerging industries. Earlier this year, I introduced the Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act, which would allow local communities to determine their workforce needs. Local businesses, labor unions, community colleges, and workforce development boards could use the SECTORS Act to train workers for emerging industry clusters. In Northeast Ohio, for example, a strong biosciences and alternative-energy industry already is retraining highly skilled workers for new industry and opportunity.

There must be improved federal assistance for economically distressed communities. When a major plant closing results in massive job loss and economic decline, there must be a coordinated federal response to provide economic stability, the same way there’s a federal response to help a community recover from a devastating flood or tornado.
A national manufacturing strategy must revamp how our nation does trade — it must include fair trade policies that promote American manufacturing and level the playing field for workers and products alike. That’s what the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment (TRADE) Act that I will introduce will do. We have the most open markets in the world. It’s time that our trade policies reflect our national interest and that our trade laws are enforced to promote our goods and services.

Done right, a national manufacturing policy can reinvest in our workers’ capacity to build next-generation technologies and rebuild our next generation of middle-class families. Done right, we can create new industry and create good-paying and secure jobs.

One thing is certain: It’s time to invest in the workers and communities that are the backbone of our middle class.

Brown is a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.