More laborers to celebrate Labor Day

September 4, 2017 · Posted in Business and industry, Inside the Beltway, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on More laborers to celebrate Labor Day 

I wasn’t necessarily going to write about this, but as it turns out Labor Day is a pretty good time to make this point.

When the unemployment numbers came out last Friday, it turned out that manufacturing jobs were one of the star performers as the sector gained 36,000 jobs in August – almost 1/4 of the total gain.

You may recall that for most of Barack Obama’s term I often referenced a union-backed organization called the Alliance for American Manufacturing, generally quoting their president, Scott Paul. He’s still there, and while he seemed to be pleased with the August results he’s still singing his protectionist song:

Did the robot revolution take the month off?

Adding 36,000 new factory jobs in August is good news for American workers. For the first time in a long time, manufacturing punched above its weight in the job market, accounting for 23 percent of total job growth. There’s great potential for continued manufacturing job growth – but only if we get the policy right.

How can we keep up the momentum? Pass an infrastructure bill with strong Buy America preferences to put more people back to work. The administration must also invest in training the workers of the future, move forward with rebalancing trade, and hold China accountable.

One facet of the AAM that interested me early on was their tracking of an Obama promise to create 1,000,000 manufacturing jobs – a pledge for which he fell far short by a factor of over 2/3. (Color me surprised </sarc>.) So it’s very intriguing to me that, through just eight months this year, the Trump score is already at 137,000. (Granted, there’s a slight bit of overlap from the Obama administration, but whatever bit of momentum began there may have come once it was assured Trump would be the victor in 2016.) On that pace, Trump would be in the 600 to 700 thousand range in his term.

I also think it’s fascinating that Paul talks about the “robot revolution” taking the month off but in the same statement beseeches the Trump administration to “invest in training the workers of the future.” As wage pressure is placed on the job market through misguided local and state government policies, such as the $15 minimum wage, tasks as mundane as attaching fenders on the assembly line or asking “do you want fries with that?” are going the way of the buggy whip, yielding to more skilled occupations such as working on those robots which make up the revolution. If you’ve seen pictures of modern assembly lines, automobiles and other large objects are put together more and more by mechanized means rather than a worker doing the same task of fastening rivets for eight long hours – a time when he could get tired, be less than at his best thanks to hard partying the night before, or just not trained up to the quality required for the task.

It’s true that unfair labor practices and currency manipulation have been factors in the decline of American manufacturing, but there were other processes that have affected all domestic businesses. Just ask yourself: how else would it be logical that an American manufacturer relocate to China when you consider the shipping time and costs and the learning curve needed to train hundreds of employees who may not be familiar with what the American market desires? Obviously those expenses were outweighed by the far lower wages they could pay Chinese workers, the removal of stringent regulations (not just environmental, but dealing with workers as well), and the lower tax costs. Over a 30-year period, “Made in America” became “Made in China,” and that’s often still the case today.

But I don’t think we have to be protectionist if we can create the conditions that cancel out several of the factors that drove manufacturing overseas. We already have a head start if we can keep our energy costs down by employing the resources we were blessed with instead of pie-in-the-sky schemes like dependence on unreliable wind or solar power. Add to this a corporate tax rate that is fair and not confiscatory – losing almost 4 out of every 10 dollars of corporate income seems to me a much larger piece of the pie than government needs or deserves – and a predictable regulatory regime based on common sense rather than being capricious and arbitrary, and much of the issue will be solved. At that point it’s up to the good old American worker to do the jobs Americans will do if given a shot. For example, someone has to know how to fix those machines that weld together automotive parts, and they probably won’t need a college degree to do it.

My father, who Lord willing will turn 82 in a month and has probably never turned on a computer, grew up in an era where he could finish high school and find a job at a concrete block plant doing maintenance. It was a union shop and gave him a good living, although he was unhappy at times with the union because it treated everyone equally whether they pulled their weight or not. Thousands of men around my hometown of Toledo who grew up in that era could tell a similar story as they got out of high school and went to work at a number of automotive (and other) manufacturing plants: Willys Jeep, GM Hydra-Matic transmission, Ford Stamping, Toledo Scale, Libbey Glass, and so forth – all union shops, and all providing a good middle-class income.

Kids graduating from high school now, though, are seemingly consigned to dead-end service jobs, as the days of your uncle getting you in at the Jeep plant are pretty much gone. But America needs to get back to making things, young men (and women) need jobs that can support a family, and the academic world needs a shakeout to a point where college is geared more toward the students who have the academic chops to succeed there. (Not everyone is college material in the traditional sense – some people just are geared toward and have the aptitude for working with their hands rather than sitting through a freshman English class.) A rebirth in American manufacturing can accomplish all of these goals.

So on this Labor Day and its implied salute to the American worker, consider what could be done to improve his or her lot. Lightening government’s load on industry seems to me a key step in making us the place that makes things again.

A more agreeable tone?

November 21, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Ohio politics, Politics · Comments Off on A more agreeable tone? 

The election of Donald Trump was a surprise to most pundits, who were expecting Hillary Clinton to win both the popular vote and the Electoral College. But her plans were spoiled when she lost three states she expected would be her “blue firewall” even if she lost in Florida: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Those 46 electoral votes assured her defeat when they accrued to Trump’s column (although Michigan may still switch as a recount is likely required.) Add in a surprisingly lopsided win in Ohio for Trump as well as the expected blowout in Indiana, and the Rust Belt was pretty solidly in Donald Trump’s corner.

Much has been made about the droves of working-class voters that seemingly came out of nowhere to propel Trump over the finish line, and a survey released by the Alliance for American Manufacturing bears this out:

The national survey, conducted by The Mellman Group and North Star Opinion Research (firms that poll for Democratic and Republican candidates respectively) found that 85 percent of those surveyed support a national manufacturing strategy. Support for a manufacturing strategy is robust among both Trump voters (89 percent) and Clinton voters (83 percent).

Manufacturing may have been an election-determining issue, as Trump won manufacturing households by 18 points with Clinton winning non-manufacturing households by 4 points.

It comes as no surprise that by more than a two-to-one margin voters believe manufacturing is critical to our future and reject the notion that high-tech or services could take its place.

“The biggest surprise on election night came from the Industrial Heartland,” (AAM President Scott) Paul said. “Manufacturing is the engine that drives the heartland’s economy. The good news is that Trump and Clinton voters alike want to get it back on track.” (Link added.)

Unfortunately, the survey doesn’t cite the evidence ascertaining the voting patterns of manufacturing and non-manufacturing households, but my presumption would be that a “manufacturing” household is one where a family member either currently works in the sector, is retired from it, or was previously in the sector but lost his or her job. Thousands of voters fit in this category: using my native Ohio as an example, Trump did far better overall than Mitt Romney did in key manufacturing centers like Toledo (Lucas County), Lorain (Lorain County), Cleveland (Cuyahoga County), Akron (Summit County), Canton (Stark County), and Youngstown (Mahoning County).

  • Lucas County: Romney 68,100 (33.9%), Trump 74,102 (38.7%)
  • Lorain County: Romney 58,095 (41.9%), Trump 65,346 (47.8%)*
  • Cuyahoga County: Romney 184,475 (30.2%), Trump 179,894 (30.8%)
  • Summit County: Romney 111,001 (41.4%), Trump 109,531 (43.8%)
  • Stark County: Romney 86,958 (49.2%)*, Trump 96,345 (56.4%)*
  • Mahoning County: Romney 41,702 (35.5%), Trump 52,808 (46.8%)

*winner in county.

In total, Trump amassed 27,695 more votes in these industrial counties, and while he only won 2 of the 6, he averaged a 5.4% improvement overall. Having a little residual knowledge of how Ohio politics works, seeing how Trump was close in the initial count was a good sign for him – oftentimes in the urban counties the closer election districts report first (they are more heavily minority) so a Republican almost always starts out behind. It’s a matter of whether they get too far back to reel in the leader as the suburban and rural precincts begin to come in. And like the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the rural areas of Ohio are also an indicator for GOP candidates who need to rack up totals in the 65 to 75 percent range to make up for the losses in urban counties. Trump did this in spades, garnering an astounding 80.7% in Mercer County along the Indiana border – part of a group of adjacent western Ohio counties where over 3 out of 4 voters were Trump backers. (Of the few Ohio counties that went for Hillary Clinton, just one was a non-urban county and that comes with a caveat – Athens County is the home of Ohio University. Somehow, as a Miami graduate, I’m not surprised.)

It would be my guess that the AAM will be much more Trump-friendly than they may have appeared at first glance as a union-backed creation. The President-elect is promising heavy investment in infrastructure (a priority of theirs) and has a view on trade much more in line with the protectionist playbook the group has created.

And certainly I don’t want to say the manufacturing jobs are gone for good; however, those workers who are of a certain age (basically my age or older) may not share in the rebirth of manufacturing like they hope they might, if only because the ship of state which has sailed since the days of NAFTA and the rampant offshoring of the era will be difficult to turn around right away. Not only are trade and infrastructure key factors, but so is reducing the tax burden on American companies. On the other hand, the prospect of punishing American companies that move offshore may hasten their plans and create more headaches in the short run.

Donald Trump won his electoral votes in the Midwest by promising a return to the good times of a half-century ago, when it was possible for a guy to graduate high school and get a job through family or friends with a union shop that would keep him employed for the next forty years or until he decided to take his pension and retire. Those days are a memory. But we can still be a nation that makes stuff, and it would be to our advantage to become that nation as the world becomes a more competitive place.

America needs to use more energy, not less

November 8, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2016, Campaign 2016 - President, Marita Noon, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off on America needs to use more energy, not less 

Commentary by Marita Noon

During the 2016 election, both candidates promised to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. Donald Trump made the recovery of jobs lost to China and Mexico a cornerstone of his campaign. Hillary Clinton’s website states: “While too many politicians and experts in Washington gave up on American manufacturing, Hillary never did.”

“The rhetoric,” reports US News, “has struck home with Americans across the country – particularly those currently or formerly employed in the embattled U.S. goods-producing and manufacturing sectors, who have repeatedly borne the brunt of corporate efforts to move work overseas.”

Because many of the lost jobs are due to automation and technological improvements – which have enabled more production from fewer workers – there is skepticism on both sides of the aisle as to whether these lost jobs can actually come back. However, I believe, most Americans don’t want to see more of our jobs disappear. Harry Moser, founder and president of the Reshoring Initiative, which aims to bring manufacturing back home, is optimistic. He told me that we are now losing about as many jobs to offshoring, as we are recovering: “We’ve gone from losing somewhere around 200,000 manufacturing jobs a year in 2000 to 2003 to net breaking even. Balancing the trade deficit will increase U.S. manufacturing by about four million jobs at current levels of productivity.”

According to MarketWatch.com, the percentage of people who work in manufacturing is at a record low of 8.5% – which compares to “20% in 1980, 30% in 1960 and a record 39% during World War Two.”

While there are many factors driving offshoring, lower wages give countries like China and Mexico a competitive advantage. Energy costs, however, give the U.S. an advantage as “manufacturers need a lot of energy to make their processes work,” stated Gary Marmo, director of sales for New Jersey’s Elizabethtown Gas. He says: “A typical office building will use 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 therms a year. A good sized manufacturing plant will probably use that same amount in just a couple of days.” Electricity frequently represents one of the top operating costs for energy intensive industries such as plastics, metals, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals – and, according to a recent study comparing costs in the U.S. and China, electricity is about 50 percent higher in China.

Because manufacturing is energy intensive, bringing industry back to the U.S. and/or attracting businesses to relocate here, will increase our energy consumption. As my column last week on the Clinton Foundation and Haiti makes clear, industry needs energy.

President Obama has derided U.S, energy use: “The U.S. uses far more electricity than its North American neighbors combined,” but the U.S. also does more with our energy. Comparing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and energy consumption numbers for the U.S. and Canada, for example, both use a similar volume of energy but the U.S. has substantially higher GDP. A study of global energy consumption versus GDP found: “energy is so intrinsically linked to GDP that energy policy more or less dictates how our economy performs.”

Mike Haseler, the study’s author, explains: “rising GDP is an indication of a prosperous economy” – which is why economic commentators cite GDP numbers when they say: “President Barack Obama may become the first president since Herbert Hoover not to serve during a year in which the growth in real GDP was at least 3 percent.”  Yet, in the name of climate change, through government policy, many countries are trying to discourage energy use by forcing costs up. Haseler states: “They are cutting energy use as the economy of Europe collapses because European industry can no longer compete with countries where energy prices are not artificially raised by senseless ‘green’ policies.”

The energy advantage is not just an issue between countries, it is a factor in where companies locate within the U.S. “High electricity bills are a strong disincentive to create new jobs associated with a new or expanded product line,” writes Don Welch, president of New Hampshire based Globe Manufacturing Co, LLC. New Hampshire’s electric prices are 55.6 percent higher than the national average. Welch’s company is the leading producer of firefighting turnout gear. He explains: “higher electricity costs not only add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of making our products – firefighting suits and equipment – but it’s money we could otherwise re-invest in the business, including creating new jobs here in New Hampshire. New Hampshire’s high electricity prices are a drag on our economy. It puts New Hampshire companies like mine at a competitive disadvantage compared to companies in other parts of the country.” Because Globe also has plants in three different states, he clearly sees the difference energy costs make in doing business. Welch says: “I already know that the electric bill I am paying at my facility in Oklahoma is half of what I pay in New Hampshire.” If he is going to add a product line, energy costs are a big factor in deciding where to expand.

John F. Olson, president and CEO of Whelen Engineering Company, of Charlestown, NH, and Chester, CT agrees. In a letter to the editor, Olson wrote: “Manufacturers are in competition with other U.S. manufacturers, or even worse, offshore competition in China. New Hampshire manufacturers have the most expensive electricity in the country.”

If we can bring back manufacturing jobs – or at least stem the flow of them from our country – we need to be encouraging low-cost energy and making more of it available. Moser believes: “balancing the trade deficit should be the number 1 national priority.” He told me that would take a 25 percent increase in manufacturing – which would require about a 10 percent increase in energy usage. Yet, climate change policies demand that we take greater cuts than the developing countries like China and India. If our energy costs continue to go up, as they have in New Hampshire, we’ll lose the best competitive advantage we have.

Moser explains: “Manufacturing has the highest multiplier effect among the major sectors. Every job created in manufacturing creates additional jobs in other sectors that supply, support and service manufacturers.”

To bring manufacturing back to the U.S., or encourage expansion, we need energy that is abundant, available and affordable – and we’ll need to use more, not less. If we want to balance our trade deficit, boost GDP, and have a prosperous economy, energy is the key. As I am known for saying: “energy makes America great!”

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy – which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

Compare and contrast: government vs. the private sector

July 30, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2016, Campaign 2016 - President, Delmarva items, National politics, Ohio politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Compare and contrast: government vs. the private sector 

A few days ago I mentioned the manufacturing advocates the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) in a post regarding their convention plans. I wasn’t surprised to see they were very pleased with Hillary Clinton’s remarks, including a plan to “pass the biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II.” Ah yes, the old “investment” in infrastructure, where taxpayer money will be shoveled to cronies and unions in an effort to build things we may not need or use (like facilities for public transit, bike paths, and so forth) at the artificial “prevailing” wage. Spend five dollars, waste two or three more – they don’t care because it’s all on the credit card anyway.

It sounds to me just like the promises regarding the “stimulus” package from Barack Obama, officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. Those “shovel-ready” jobs actually turned out to be, among other things, government backstopping certain public-sector jobs that may have been destined for the chopping block. Only a small portion of the over $800 billion spent actually went to infrastructure, but ARRA was sold as an investment in infrastructure. So pardon me if I expect little good to come from Hillary’s plan.

Anyway, last night I read a contention that was more interesting (and realistic) from American Enterprise Institute scholar (as well as professor of economics and finance) Mark J. Perry. Here is the money line:

The bottom line is that America’s abundant and low-cost natural gas and electricity have more than offset higher labor costs in the U.S. and have contributed to the strongest profitability in a generation or more for U.S. manufacturers. Within three years, and possibly even sooner, it will be cheaper for most U.S. companies to manufacture goods for the American market at home, compared to producing those same goods in Asia. (Emphasis mine.)

Of course, that prediction is fraught with peril. We could regulate our way out of the energy boom by continuing to mandate the use of expensive, inefficient renewable energy sources (or, in lieu of that, transfer payments from utility providers), we can maintain the oppressive tax climate that has been one of many reasons companies are choosing to go offshore – any bean counter will tell you it’s better to pay 15% tax than 35% – or actually enact the increasing minimum wage that unfortunately Donald Trump is now supporting. Any or all of these are possible regardless of who wins the Oval Office.

And that’s the shame of it all. Over the course of the nation’s history, we have seen America become a great industrial power only to lose its advantage to upstarts like Japan and China. (Then again, we wrested the title from the British in the 1800s so things are always fluid.) These Asian nations took advantage of newer technology and less expensive labor to attract American manufacturing jobs that were in older, less efficient unionized plants, despite the fact these items would have to shipped back thousands of miles to their primary market.

But here we have the chance to get some of this back, and my fear is that too many people want to keep the status quo in place as a political issue rather than solve the problem. We talk about being a free market insofar as trade is concerned, but I contend that we need to work on freeing our own market:

  • Toss out these federal and state regulations and carveouts that only benefit special interests or large, established competitors trying to corner their respective markets.
  • Encourage the adoption of right-to-work laws so unions are forced to compete and sell the benefits they provide for the cost to workers.
  • Instead of debating whether the minimum wage should be increased or not, we should be debating how quickly we phase it out. The true minimum wage is zero, which is what workers who are tossed out of a job when companies can’t afford the increased labor costs will earn.

In reading the GOP platform (and I’m just going to ignore the Democrats on this one, since they aren’t selling themselves as free-market, limited-government types) I saw some attention paid to these issues, although their approach seems to be more of just controlling growth and pruning around the edges than a wholesale reduction. Needless to say, that platform could be completely ignored by the elected members of the party from Donald Trump on down if the idea of enriching their friends, rather than the supporters of the other side that have engorged themselves over the last eight years, remains in place.

Sadly, over most of the last century it hasn’t really mattered which side was in power because government has grown regardless of who was in charge. (The one exception: the Harding-Coolidge era of the 1920s, when the federal budget was drastically reduced – and annually balanced – after World War I. In a time where we are stuck with Trump, Clinton, or maybe Gary Johnson, what we really needed was a Coolidge. Bobby Jindal was probably the closest we had in the GOP field.)

I began this whole process by talking about infrastructure, and there’s a legitimate need for prudent spending on upgrades where it is appropriate. Sometimes there is a need for a new federal or state facility. But I have also seen how the government uses infrastructure to maintain a cash cow, with my favorite example being the Ohio Turnpike I grew up close by.

You see, the original plan was to eliminate the tolls once the bonds to construct the road were paid off in the 1980s. (This was promised when the highway was built in the early 1950s – my dad remembers them staking it out a few miles from his house.) But then they decided that some new exits were necessary (which they were) so they decided to build those. Then it was adding a third lane in each direction between Youngstown and Toledo (a process still going insofar as I know, since I haven’t been that way in a couple years), then renovating all the rest areas (twice in thirty years, and ditto), and so on and so forth. Forget the promise to remove the tolls once the highway was paid off – they constantly spend money on projects that weren’t within the original scope, perpetuating the agency that runs the Turnpike.

In theory, we could spend money from now until doomsday on government-sponsored projects. Some contractors would benefit, but others would be left out in the cold because there’s a certain procedure required to bid on and win public works contracts. But it wouldn’t necessarily be the best use of our funds – and by that I don’t mean the money in the public till but the money that we earn for our collective pockets. If we really want to get manufacturing going and bring it back to America, we need to maximize their potential for meeting our marketplace. They may make mistakes, but that should be up to the market to pick winners and not the government.

Out to build a state (and a nation)

February 11, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2016, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Out to build a state (and a nation) 

Originally I was going to add some of these items to my “odds and ends” post but decided to promote the idea to a post of its own. I have a lot of things which I can neatly tie together.

It’s now been a decade since America’s economy even grew at a 3% rate, as Rick Manning pointed out a few weeks ago. While he lays a lot of the blame for what he later termed an 8.9% “real” unemployment rate on government regulation and policy, other industry groups like the U.S. Business & Industry Council (USBIC) and Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) point the blame squarely at China. First is USBIC President Kevin Kearns:

Can anyone doubt that America’s trading relationship with Beijing is a one-sided, one-way catastrophe for the American economy? Our massive trade deficit with China represents a constant outflow of jobs and productive capacity to a country that refuses to play by the rules of world trade. It’s been 15 years since China joined the World Trade Organization. There can be no doubt that America’s experiment in so-called ‘free trade’ with China is a miserable failure.

AAM’s President Scott Paul:

Now we have even more evidence as to why voters are deeply concerned about China and its impact on the American economy. Our trade deficit with China in 2015 again surged to record levels, and that helps explain the struggles we’ve seen in manufacturing recently – particularly in critical sectors like the steel industry.

The 29,000 factory jobs gained in January is good news, but it’s certainly no indication of an upward trend. Many dangers persist, including a strong dollar, China’s economic weakness, and its massive industrial overcapacity. It strikes me as an inopportune time to be pushing a Trans-Pacific Partnership that is projected to cost America more than 121,000 factory jobs, according to the Peterson Institute of International Economics.

So just how do we compete? There’s no question that 40 years of buildup and advantages accrued by foreign competitors in the areas of lower wages, lack of regulation, and outright cheating more than make up for the millions of dollars in shipping costs required to ship cargo across the Pacific to the American consumer market. The relics and ruins of our Rust Belt convey the depth of the opportunities squandered. If we can’t beat them on price, we have to beat them on quality and be smarter than they are.

One thing I’ve noticed about the Senate race is that several GOP candidates are focusing on the manufacturing sector as a ticket to the state’s prosperity. For example, Rich Douglas had this to say the exodus of jobs to Mexico and about his platform:

Ten thousand jobs lost in Maryland alone.  That’s what Texas businessman Ross Perot meant when he predicted a “giant sucking sound” of U.S. factories moving to Mexico after Congress approved the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  If elected to the U.S. Senate from Maryland in November, I will work to bring them back.

The “sucking sound” was real.  In the mid-1980s I lived and worked in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, across the river from El Paso, Texas.  The Juarez of my memory is a vast collection of big-box factories in the desert, bearing well-known U.S. names.  Jobs lost from the U.S.

(snip)

Citizens with a path forward to jobs, homes, and a future remain in school, avoid drugs, do not riot, and keep their unborn children.  Maryland needs factories and jobs.  A way to attract them is to send the right people to Congress.  What sets me apart from the rest of the Senate field?  Experience and scars earned in markets where U.S. ethics are mocked.  Experience with U.S.-imposed hurdles to U.S. exports.  Experience with the human cost of free trade.

But Douglas is not alone. It turns out fellow candidate Chrys Kefalas is a vice-president at the National Association of Manufacturers, which again is urging people to be manufacturing voters:

Notes Kefalas on his social media page:

I’m all about manufacturing more jobs in Maryland and the U.S. And that means fighting so that companies like Under Armour and small businesses can bring more jobs to Maryland. I will.

Adds yet another Senate hopeful, Dave Wallace:

Many will remember when Marylanders proudly made steel, Chevys and many other quality products and enjoyed a prosperous life. Today our infrastructure and job prospect are crumbling, and high taxes and regulations are driving away the jobs and investments we need.

While this is a promising beginning, Wallace remains short on details. But it’s better than nothing, as I’m not finding where the other major candidate, Kathy Szeliga, addresses manufacturing at all.

Actually, I take that back. Nothing is better than this mess that punishes achieving businesses and expands the government’s role at a time when they need to stand down and let the market grow. Remember, doing it this way has led to a “lost decade” of slow-to-no economic growth.

Since this part of the state isn’t dependent on government jobs to survive – but could use an economic shot in the arm to diversify from the poultry and tourism industries – it seems like we would be an ideal location to be the place to make things. The cost of living is fairly decent, the area is nice, and there are a lot of people who are willing to put in a little bit of elbow grease to get things moving. All they need is for the state to let them compete, and even though a Senator doesn’t necessarily guide state policy he or she can lead by example.

Report: High wages aren’t the issue with manufacturing

December 12, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism, Wal-Mart · Comments Off on Report: High wages aren’t the issue with manufacturing 

As you surely know, I have taken an interest in rebuilding manufacturing within our nation in general and this region in particular. While much of our local economy takes the form of manufacturing in an agricultural sense, either through grain farming or its primary purpose of assisting in the raising and processing of chickens, the advantages to the local and national economy if America began to make things again is beyond dispute.

So when I was sent a link to a manufacturing report by the union-led Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), I wanted to see what the perspective would be. Up front, it was clear that the AAM had their eggs in one basket.

“American factory workers are the solution, not the problem,” said Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul. “Instead of scapegoats, America needs a manufacturing strategy. That strategy should be built on balancing trade, investing in our infrastructure, enhancing our training programs, and rebuilding our innovation base.”

This report, with the lengthy title “Exchange rate policies, not high wages, are why U.S. lags China and Germany in export performance,” comes from the liberal Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Paul’s interpretation of the report:

“The idea that high wages in the manufacturing industry are causing job losses is common, but incorrect,” (report author Robert E.) Scott said. “Pushing manufacturing jobs into the low-wage, non-union south is a race-to-the-bottom strategy that should be rejected. Instead, we need to fight currency manipulation by countries like China and take a page from Germany and Europe to rebuild American manufacturing.”

His is a truncated summary of the last bullet point solution offered in the EPI report:

The strategy of pushing manufacturing into the low-wage, nonunion southern states is a race-to-the-bottom strategy that should be rejected in favor of high-road strategies: fighting currency manipulation and doing more to rebuild American manufacturing, taking a page from the German and European models (with supply-side policies that benefit and support the manufacturing sector, including increased spending on research and development as a share of gross domestic product; support for “stakeholder capitalism” in which boards of directors include an equal number of representatives of workers and managers; and heavy investment in training and job creation).

Obviously there is a certain appeal to some of getting back to the conditions we had circa 1960, when American manufacturing was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, workers brought home a salary that could support a family while Mom stayed home to take care of the kids, and Big Labor had its own corner of the political table. Five decades later, we have ceded that crown to China for a number of reasons. But I don’t think currency manipulation is the primary reason.

The EPI’s worry that manufacturing jobs are flocking to the “low-wage, non-union south” is in and of itself a tacit admission that wages and benefits are an important factor in site selection. China got to be a manufacturing leader because they have a very inexpensive workforce of semi-skilled laborers – the same sort of workforce that illegal aliens bring to the table in this country, although it depresses wages here in a different manner. Given the equality of other factors nationwide such as the federal regulatory regime and abundant cheap energy, those who do site selection tend to choose the places where they can get the biggest bang for their buck.

By the same token, willing local governments which assist these manufacturers with providing new infrastructure and greenfields for development tend to have more success than those urban areas with problematic old systems and brownfields that require remediation. But that’s not the only reason nice plots of available land sit empty in regions of the country outside the South.

Here in Maryland, we are saddled with a state government that refuses to even consider right-to-work legislation and has gone out of its way to punish large non-union employers. A decade ago when I began this site, the largest state issue was the (so-called) Fair Share Health Care Act and whether the Maryland General Assembly would override Governor Bob Ehrlich’s veto, which they did. The bill was narrowly tailored to affect just one employer: Walmart. And while correlation is not causation, the fact a proposed Walmart distribution center in Somerset County was placed on a continuing hold was blamed on the unfriendly climate for non-union businesses in Maryland. (The bill itself was later struck down in court as an ERISA violation, something I thought improper at the time.)

If you assume my overall argument is in favor of this “race to the bottom,” you’re forgetting a simple fact: a little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing. There are many paths to prosperity our nation, state, and city have available to us but it seems to me the best one is where we add value to the goods and services everyone needs. This is why our chicken industry succeeds, since we take that which is available to us to raise and process chicken for a world market and have developed an expertise that competitors have a hard time matching. Granted, not everyone in the industry makes a ton of money but that’s a function of the value placed on chicken by the market. Chicken is a very useful food product but people also like and can choose beef, pork, seafood, or vegan as well. On the other hand, there’s a reason oil is called “black gold,” to use another useful commodity for an example. The resource has a very high value thanks to its functionality, relative scarcity, and lack of alternative products.

America as a whole needs to again become the place where the most value is added, and once we get there we will all succeed because of it. (That will be the point where trade takes care of itself as well.) Back in 1960 we were the leaders in adding value, but now we’re not because we let others take our place. Re-establishing our manufacturing base will help us get that crown back, even if some parts of the country do more to help themselves in improving their economic state.

More woeful manufacturing news

It’s been a crusade of mine to encourage the rebirth of American manufacturing – unfortunately, we seem to be going the wrong way, according to the union-backed Alliance for American Manufacturing. Holding Barack Obama to his promise for one million new manufacturing jobs in his second term, the net gain has fallen with the September employment results and the August revision to 370,000. Even if you consider that their figure is a net figure, we’re still way short of one million jobs created.

Overall, the job market is creating about 200,000 jobs per month – slower than last year, but still positive growth. Unfortunately, it’s barely exceeding population growth.

You may ask yourself, though – why the emphasis on manufacturing in these quarters, particularly when you work in a service industry? To me, the answer is simple: economic growth is achieved when we add value to the overall economy. Sure, you can print money until the printing presses break but that just adds paper and not value.

Consider the iPad I’m writing this on. Originally it was a number of raw materials extracted from the ground. The first addition of value came when they were extracted, but a far larger one came when the component parts were created. A further increase in value came from the assembly process, which made the iPad into something usable by a member of the public. At that point, a little extra was added in shipping it to the venue of retail.

While I can’t ascertain where the raw materials came from, the iPad is manufactured overseas and shipped to the American market. Supposedly Apple has moved some production here, but not for iPads.

I don’t want to get bogged down in those nuts-and-bolts, but suffice to say that I think manufacturing adds more value per dollar invested than service industries. Certainly it can be fickle – the fanfare associated with this early ’70s plant expansion died quickly when a national recession shuttered it within a couple years – but more often than not good jobs are provided.

We are better off when we make stuff. China may be cheaper, but is it better? How many times have you purchased some Chinese-made trinket only to scrap it in a couple years because it was assembled in a shoddy manner with substandard parts? America used to be better than that, and I want to see us return there.

Another Trump criticism

August 7, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on Another Trump criticism 

Donald Trump took a lot of criticism from all sides last night, so this little bit of piling on won’t make much of a dent in his self-esteem. But Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing found another reason to diss on The Donald:

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is never shy in front of the camera, and his appearance at tonight’s first big GOP presidential debate will be must-see TV – especially because he takes a hard line on unfair trade with China.

Here’s one question I’d love to hear him answer: Why aren’t any of his Trump-branded goods made in America?

(snip)

During his campaign announcement speech and plenty of times since on the stump, Donald Trump has blamed China and Mexico for the loss of American manufacturing jobs. But, again, his own Trump-branded stuff is made overseas.

Trump certainly talks tough on China, jobs, and trade, but he doesn’t back it up with his own actions – while many manufacturers fight to Make it in America in spite of the odds.

I don’t believe Scott Paul is related to Rand, by the way. But this Paul’s statement is actually a valid point to make, particularly when Trump makes a loser out of America by manufacturing his goods elsewhere.

The AAM has also vowed to check on the other candidates as well, although they seem to be a bit behind. One notable omission on the Democratic side is Martin O’Malley. I did a cursory check of his website, though, and found he has no merchandise store. (Now I feel like I need a shower, though.)

When there are millions of dollars flowing through a campaign, there shouldn’t be a question about making the goods in America where possible. Given the fact most campaign merchandise comes from the apparel and printing industry it should not be hard to find these items. (Surely my old friends at American Certified can help with that.) Naturally Democrats prefer to have all their items come from union shops, while Republicans have their own list of favored suppliers. On a local level, we know which businesses are owned by Republicans so we try and steer business their way.

Like it or not, political campaigns are a multi-billion dollar business – especially on the Presidential level. So why not keep that money flowing in American hands? Hopefully the Alliance for American Manufacturing will be pleased with the level of American products they find in the various campaigns.

It also reminds me to plug my dossier series, as trade and job creation is next on the schedule. I am shooting for early next week with that one.

A First State failure

As a person who now has a job created in Delaware, I’m taking more of a vested interest in what goes on in the First State. I’ve been on the mailing list of the 9-12 Delaware Patriots for some time now, and today they sent out an update from the state’s Senate Republican Caucus. (Like Maryland, the Senate GOP is on the short end of the stick insofar as numbers are concerned, but the deficit is closer as it’s only a 12-9 Democrat majority there.)

The one thing I found interesting was a twist on the trend of states becoming right-to-work states. In Delaware, Senator Greg Lavelle had the thought of creating small “right-to-work zones” encompassing specific employers. I’ll let the Delaware Senate GOP pick it up from here:

The Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee declined this week to release a bill aimed at revitalizing Delaware’s manufacturing industry.

By not releasing Sen. Greg Lavelle’s (R-Sharpley) legislation to create right-to-work zones in Delaware, the Democrat-controlled committee has essentially killed the bill.

Under the measure, workers within these zones could not be forced to join or financially support a union as a condition of employment. It would also exempt manufacturing businesses adding at least 20 new workers from paying the Gross Receipts Tax for five years.

During Wednesday’s hour-long public hearing in Legislative Hall advocates of the bill, including representatives from several business organizations, argued such an initiative would create a more competitive environment, attract new businesses to Delaware and generate more jobs.

Sen. Lavelle identified multiple Delaware locations where the idea could take root, such as the former General Motors Boxwood Road plant near Newport, as well as other existing facilities in New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties.

His feeling after the meeting was that while the bill may be dead, the idea is not.

“For me, what came out of the meeting was that this was the first formal discussion that we’ve had about this issue in Delaware,” he said. “The fact is, coming out of the recession, where many other states have added manufacturing jobs, Delaware has lost another 3,000. So the conversation on how to turn that around has to continue. And judging from the many comments we heard in committee supporting this bill, there’s no doubt this conversation will continue.”

Worth pointing out is that Delaware has lost many of its manufacturing jobs over the last decade, declining from 33,800 such jobs in 2005 to 25,500 a decade later. That’s a 25% decrease, meaning for every 4 manufacturing jobs the state once had one was lost over the last decade. If you were the unlucky one to lose your job, it means you either had to relocate out of state or change careers, with the unfortunate byproduct of that choice being that skills gained atrophy over time.

This is a different approach than the one tried in Maryland, where Delegate Warren Miller has annually introduced a statewide right-to-work bill where the compelling arguments in its favor unceasingly fell on deaf Democratic ears in the Economic Matters Committee. Personally I think the way to go about it is a piecemeal approach, beginning with the Eastern Shore. Far from what Big Labor critics believe, Indiana – a recent convert to right-to-work – added 50,000 union jobs last year as part of an overall surge in employment growth. We can use the Eastern Shore as a petri dish for a right-to-work experiment, because Lord knows they try to impose everything we don’t want on us (tier maps, onerous septic regulations, and the PMT, to name a few.)

One big difference between Maryland and Delaware is the fact that over half of its Senate will be at stake in the 2016 elections – it is possible for the GOP to gain a majority by winning 6 of the 11 contested seats. The state GOP should make this an issue in trying to decrease joblessness – after all, a union does you little good if you are not working and over 8,000 onetime factory workers are doing something else because the state lost its competitive edge.

Delaware has always had a reputation of being business-friendly, but in this changing employment climate they have to step up their game. Going into an election year, an issue has to be made of how the state will compete going forward – after all, my job depends on it.

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