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Washington Needs to Refocus on Manufacturing Jobs | Commentary

Congress hasn’t given Americans much reason this year to believe it can work together in the country’s best interest to help create jobs. That needs to change.

It’s time for Washington to refocus on manufacturing jobs instead of manufactured crises.

The United States is primed for a manufacturing revival, and there’s a lot Congress can do to restart this vital economic engine. Although you wouldn’t know it from watching the news, there’s actually no shortage of good ideas from both parties for helping our manufacturers grow and create jobs.

On Tuesday, 21 of my Senate colleagues and I are launching a new effort, dubbed Manufacturing Jobs for America, to help translate those good ideas into good manufacturing jobs across the country.

The campaign features more than 40 measures — many that have bipartisan support — to spur job creation in manufacturing and lay the foundation for stronger economic growth far into the future. These senators will work together to build bipartisan support for these bills, to get them hearings and ultimately to earn votes on the floor.

Manufacturing jobs are high-quality jobs — they pay more on average and have better benefits than jobs in other industries — and they lead to gains throughout the economy. Every new manufacturing job we create adds another 1.6 local service jobs, and each dollar in manufacturing sales adds another $1.34 to the local economy.

Investments in manufacturing fuel innovation. Manufacturers are the country’s number one investors in research and development, filing 90 percent of all patents and funding two-thirds of research and development in the private sector.

While it’s true that a tough combination of lower wages and weaker labor and environmental protections abroad and higher productivity here at home has meant a loss of millions of manufacturing jobs over the past 20 years, there’s no reason to believe these developments spell the end for American manufacturing. Manufacturing in the 21st century is fundamentally different than it was in the post-war 20th-century boom, but the United States still holds key advantages that should make us optimistic about a new era of American manufacturing.

The good news is, we already have the tools to modernize our manufacturing sector. As a result of dramatic changes in energy costs, ongoing investments in research and development, and a relatively skilled workforce, American manufacturing is poised to take off. Half a million manufacturing jobs have already been created in the past three years.

We also face a better competitive landscape, as rising wages throughout the developing world and growing concerns about protecting American inventions and innovation make the idea of shipping American manufacturing overseas less attractive.

With a concerted effort at congressional leadership across at least four areas, we can help our resurgent manufacturing sector reach its full potential.

First, we must strengthen America’s modern workforce. We need to build better coordination between our schools and manufacturers so that Americans of all ages can acquire and sharpen the skills companies are looking for. Studies by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte Consulting show a persistent gap between skills needed for advanced manufacturing and the training delivered in our high schools and community colleges. They estimate more than 600,000 manufacturing jobs went unfilled in 2012 due to a lack of skilled workers.

Improving the outdated, negative perception of manufacturing among teachers, parents and guidance counselors and making a sustained effort to deliver updated skills for advanced manufacturing can make a meaningful difference.

Second, it’s critical that we fight for a more level global playing field. Manufacturing supports 60 percent of all U.S. exports — we can’t tolerate unfair trade practices that harm American workers and families, from currency manipulation to stealing our inventions to unfair dumping in American markets of subsidized foreign products.

Third, we need to make it easier for manufacturers — especially new and small businesses — to access capital and invest in research and development, as well as new equipment and products. Only by continually reinvesting in new processes and new products will our manufacturers continue to be the most productive in the world and able to sustain the high pay and benefits that American manufacturing workers deserve.

Fourth, we can do more to ensure a coordinated government-wide effort in support of manufacturing by insisting on a national manufacturing strategy. Whether in infrastructure, in energy or in education, we should gear our policies toward prioritizing the creation of manufacturing jobs. The impact on our economy will mean good jobs in the short term and economic security and growth in the long term.

The Manufacturing Jobs for America initiative is a broad collection of measures supported by many senators, rather than one comprehensive bill. By working in a bipartisan way to strengthen manufacturing, we can build confidence that Congress can indeed work together in the national interest and lay the foundation for a sustained revival of manufacturing that will benefit all Americans.

Sen. Chris Coons is a Democrat from Delaware.

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