The demise (and rebirth) of manufacturing?

Those who hold power in Annapolis continue to talk about bringing back manufacturing jobs, but the path toward making Maryland a major player again in that field begins with making a number of changes. So says gubernatorial candidate Ron George, who put out a stark criticism of the O’Malley record:

The O’Malley/Brown administration has abandoned the working man at the time when manufacturing companies are relocating back to the US and looking for a hard working, well-educated workforce. Our progressive tax system, from the sky high property tax rates in Baltimore City to the equipment tax that is four times the national average, has positioned Maryland as the worst state in the country for manufacturing.

Manufacturing accounts for a significant percentage of new jobs for workers with less education and experience in the workforce. I am working to reform education in our urban centers to direct and expose our young people towards careers requiring a trade or specialized certification.

George cites a Tax Foundation study which shows Maryland lagging behind its neighbors; indeed in several aspects of the study our state was dead last. (Oddly enough, though, Pennsylvania fared worse overall than Maryland – its recent good job fortune comes with its farsighted decision to exploit its underground resources.)

I found this interesting on the heels of a recent op-ed by Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, which chastised the Obama administration for a slow growth in manufacturing jobs nationwide. Paul concludes that:

Too few of our policymakers have considered the consequences that came with losing a third of our manufacturing jobs in the last decade. This economic recovery has not worked for the middle class; but a real one will occur when we begin to revalue manufacturing’s place at the heart of it.

Ironically, this op-ed came out on the same day leading Democratic contender Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown skipped a Maryland manufacturing conference.

So why can’t Maryland be a leader in making things? It would certainly be good for diversifying our state’s economy, which seems far too dependent on the federal government. Rather than pushing the pencils inside the Beltway, we should be making them in Hagerstown, Elkton, or any of a number of small towns which could use the employment. Of all the GOP candidates, Ron has probably devoted the most thought to the process. I also applaud the implied endorsement of vocational programs which are sorely needed in this day and age, giving people the skills necessary to not only become useful workers but also potential entrepreneurs and teachers of skilled trades.

Yet there is one thing missing in George’s idea; admittedly, no one else has really considered it either. There are several modes of transportation available for goods produced in Maryland; for domestic consumption we have reasonably good (if somewhat traffic-choked) north-south highways in I-95 and I-81 with an alternate coastal route of U.S. 13 through Delaware and the Eastern Shore. Unfortunately, transportation to the west is somewhat more problematic, with the meandering I-70 being the best bet. There is also rail transportation available, along with a oceangoing seaport in Baltimore to export goods and more limited facilities in Salisbury for barges. (Obviously there are airports as well, but generally manufactured goods use other means of transport.)

Maryland needs to position itself as a state which has a relatively good location between the metropolis of the Boston-Washington axis and the growing region of the Sun Belt, a workforce which is better educated than most, and – most importantly – a mindset I’m going to borrow from a former Republican governor of my home state, James Rhodes: “Profit is not a dirty word.” Let businesses come and make some, rather than confiscate the fruits of their toil as Maryland seems most willing to do.

Let’s face it: with the government we have in place, both in Maryland and nationally, the middle class is being phased out. There are a few on the top with all the cronyism and connections, a small (but growing) cadre of government minions who get their wealth from writing the rules which allow the upper crust to stay where they are at, and a huge number who have become the serfs of this modern-day feudalism. When America made things, it had a middle class and everyone benefited. It’s time to bring it back through leadership with an eye toward that goal.