David Cicilline and Joe Kennedy III: Congress can boost U.S. manufacturing

The Providence Journal
Thursday, September 18, 2014

Across the United States, industry experts and economists are increasingly optimistic about a resurgence in American manufacturing. Of course, in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, where the Industrial Revolution was born, we know manufacturing never really left. Just last year Rhode Island gained over 1,000 manufacturing jobs and ranked ninth in the country for job growth in this sector. In Massachusetts, 100,000 jobs in advanced manufacturing are expected to open up in the next decade.

As representatives of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, we recognize the manufacturing sector is a critical economic bright spot for our country. Luckily, domestic manufacturing is an area where there have been signs of bipartisan effort in Washington.

In July, the House approved the National Institute of Standards and Technology Reauthorization Act to authorize funding for several manufacturing support programs, including the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).

Both Rhode Island and Massachusetts are home to MEPs that have become essential support systems for local manufacturers across the region. On average, for every $1 of federal investment, the MEP delivers $19 in new sales growth. That kind of return on investment will help drive economic growth, enhance our competitiveness abroad and generate robust job growth here at home.

Congress also approved the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that will update and modernize federally-supported workforce development programs to ensure our education to employment pipeline is strong. And, increasingly, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have engaged in discussions to end corporate giveaways for companies that ship jobs overseas.

But if we’re going to grow America’s manufacturing sector, we need to do more. Now that Congress is back in session, here’s what we can do to support American manufacturers and boost local economies:

•Pass the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act (RAMI). Beginning in 2012, the Obama administration began creating regional centers built on public-private partnerships to address major manufacturing challenges across the country. The first pilot center, created in Youngstown, Ohio, brought over 90 local stakeholders to the table to support and expand the development of 3-D printing. RAMI would build on this success and create a network of similar institutes across the country, all designed to tackle the most pressing issues our manufacturing industry faces today.

Each center would be based on a specific advanced manufacturing technology — from clean energy to modern metals — and include input from businesses large and small, universities, community colleges, government, and other interested parties. The centers will support research and development, commercialization of new technologies, and workforce training.

The bill also reauthorizes the Regional Innovation Program for five years to support further collaboration among business, academia, and government at the local level. Having already garnered broad bipartisan support, Congress must bring this bill across the finish line.

•Reauthorize the Export-Import Bank to help export American-made goods around the world. The Export-Import Bank, which provides direct loans and loan guarantees to foreign buyers of U.S. made goods, fills a crucial role in our economy by helping businesses sell their goods abroad. In Fiscal Year 2013, the Export-Import Bank supported an estimated $37.4 billion in U.S. export sales and over the last five years supported $50 million and over $75 million in export sales for Rhode Island and Massachusetts, respectively. Time is running out and Congress must reauthorize this program now.

•Invest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. Manufacturing jobs are often high-tech and require workers with STEM educational backgrounds. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, over the next decade opportunities for jobs in the STEM fields are projected to grow by 17 percent, compared with 9.8 percent growth for other occupations.

Regrettably, a 2012 report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology estimates the country will produce about 1 million fewer STEM professionals than needed over the next decade. We need to advance legislation such as H.R. 2159, the 21st Century STEM Competitive Jobs Act, to equip young Americans with the skills they need for manufacturing jobs in the 21st century.

When consumers read “Made in America” they know they are buying a dependable, high quality product. As our economy continues to recover, Congress should support promising economic opportunities like domestic manufacturing to spur innovation and create jobs. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have shown a willingness to come together to approve these legislative items and Congress should get to work to support local manufacturers in the short and long term.

David Cicilline represents Rhode Island and Joe Kennedy III represents Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives. Both are Democrats.

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