The United States is in a manufacturing recession. President Trump made a campaign pledge to deliver support for American manufacturing workers and create new jobs, but he has done the opposite. A strategy for continuing American global leadership in manufacturing is right in front of him – if he cared to read it.
President Trump and his administration have been working over the past three years to undo essential federal programs that actually support manufacturers. We shouldn’t be tearing down critical programs that work – we should be working to ensure more manufacturers are aware of these programs and can take full advantage of them. We should also improve upon current initiatives so we can make progress toward addressing the real challenges facing manufacturers today.
Manufacturers in America, particularly small manufacturers, are stretched. These businesses must balance day-to-day operations and production deadlines along with overcoming the additional hurdles of rapidly changing technology, global competition and cybersecurity threats.
The prolonged tariffs and the trade war with China have delivered the weakest U.S. manufacturing activity in more than a decade. Last month, thousands of jobs were lost, and the confidence of American executives sank to its lowest level since 2009. President Trump is forgetting to first, do no harm.
Supporting our manufacturers is a bipartisan priority. Having spent a decade working in manufacturing, I know the importance of the sector firsthand, and working to sustain and grow U.S. manufacturing has been a top priority for me.
When I ask manufacturers in Delaware and across the country what they are struggling with, they bring up finding new hires with the right training, access to capital and export assistance. This is where Congress should focus our energy, and I’d like to highlight the programs already in place that can help manufacturers right now.
Perhaps the single most important federal program supporting small manufacturing businesses is the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program. MEP has been helping create jobs and delivering training in every state for the last 30 years despite President Trump’s repeated attempts to defund the program.
Large manufacturing firms have the process engineers and technical staff they need to meet innovation or optimization needs, but MEP helps lend staff with that expertise to small manufacturers who do not have those personnel on payroll. In my home state of Delaware, MEP helped Crystal Steel Fabricators in Delmar reduce scrap steel by 10 percent, buy more efficient equipment, and add a night shift and overtime for employees. PTM Manufacturing in New Castle credits the Delaware MEP program with enabling their production output to increase by 350 percent by implementing advanced manufacturing concepts. The return on investment is clear. For every $1 of federal investment, the MEP program creates over $27 in new sales growth for manufacturers. I’ve heard from many Delawareans that this program makes an important difference in their businesses, and all manufacturers should be aware of it.
A new program that is addressing workforce training is the Manufacturing Engineering Education Program. This initiative provides apprenticeship, high school, and college-level training to the next generation of manufacturing leaders. The program is in its second year and is still ramping up, but it should only be the beginning of a nationwide effort to develop a strong manufacturing curriculum in every state.
These programs have proven to be helpful, but there’s also more we can be doing at the federal level to help grow our manufacturing sector.
To start, we should improve access to capital. Early-stage manufacturers, compared to other sectors, often struggle to grow because they need larger facilities and more expensive equipment. I worked to get cash-strapped startups access to the R&D tax credit in 2015, and I’ve been working with my Republican colleague Sen. Tim Scott from South Carolina to improve access to capital for small manufacturing businesses. Congress should pass our bipartisan, bicameral legislation that provides low interest loans to manufacturers that are growing and creating jobs.
Congress should also be investing more in the next generation of advanced manufacturing technologies. In 2014, the Obama administration began standing up a national network of regional manufacturing hubs called the Manufacturing USA program. The Manufacturing USA initiative has built 14 public-private partnerships that include life-saving biopharmaceutical drugs in Delaware, advanced lightweight materials in Michigan, and high-performance composites in Tennessee.
The Manufacturing USA program is so successful that China is copying our model. China is investing enormously and is on a path to establish 40 manufacturing innovation centers of their own by 2025. There’s no reason the U.S. should get lapped by China. The president should sign my bipartisan bill, the Global Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing Act, to maintain pace with China and expand the number of Manufacturing USA institutes over the next decade to meet the original vision of 45 regional hubs spread across the country.
Supporting U.S. manufacturing is commonsense. Let’s make the right decisions for American manufacturers and show that they still have allies in Congress working for them.