WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) delivered his maiden speech on the Senator floor on Thursday evening. The speech focused on the manufacturing sector’s role on job creation and economic growth.
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER COONS
JANUARY 27, 2011
AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
Mr. President, I rise to speak in this chamber as a United States Senator for the first time. It is an honor to do so, and already after my service at the end of the hundred and eleventh Congress, I am keenly aware of the impressive array of skills brought to this place by my colleagues and the great traditions of this chamber, as well as the tremendous challenges facing both our nation and this institution as we work to make progress.
On November second, the citizens of Delaware elected me to come here on their behalf to work with ninety-nine other Senators toward a very specific goal – getting America moving again and getting our economy back on track. With our country just now recovering from the loss of so many jobs, with a substantial deficit, and the painful and lingering wreckage of a great recession, we must set aside politics and focus on progress.
I am honored to have this opportunity to serve. I am especially honored to serve alongside our state’s distinguished senior Senator, Tom Carper and to serve at a time when the President of the Senate is another distinguished Delawarean, Vice President Joe Biden, whose service in this body for over thirty-six years was marked by a tireless advocacy for America’s middle class and the people of our state. Membership in the United States Senate is a privilege not to be taken lightly, and I am determined to make the greatest contribution I can to solving the challenges facing us all.
Like my colleagues, my path to the Senate involved many experiences that have shaped my views and priorities. Growing up in Delaware, my family taught me the values of faith, hard work, and service to others. As a student, traveling and volunteering in Africa, and later working with the homeless here in this country, I learned difficult truths about poverty and human suffering but also witnessed the awesome power of hope and faith.
Later, working for the National “I Have a Dream” Foundation and running an AmeriCorps program, I saw the transformative power of education and national service to change lives.
Following my early years of service and learning, I spent eight years as in-house counsel at one of Delaware’s most innovative high-tech manufacturing companies, where I learned about the strength of American ingenuity and entrepreneurship. Later, as County Executive, running a local government that served half a million Delawareans, I learned how to make tough choices to rein in spending, grow our local economy, to balance a budget, and to achieve a surplus.
Most importantly, as a husband and a father of three young children, I spend more time than ever concerned about their future, wondering whether we will leave them and all our children a nation burdened by debt and struggling to maintain its place in the world, or with a renewed strength and focus on the fundamentals that made this the greatest nation in human history.
Now, as a member of the Senate, I look forward to applying these lessons while working with my new colleagues.
Mr. President, I said a few moments ago our constituents sent us here with the goal of getting our economy back on track, a goal of focusing relentlessly on economic recovery.
However, mere recovery – recovery alone – cannot be our goal.
The American people deserve and expect from us policies that will lead to an economy and job market stronger, more vibrant, and more prosperous than before.
To achieve this, I believe we need to pursue a new manufacturing agenda, one that will lead to the creation of inventive businesses that will open new plants and hire skilled workers for modern and sustainable jobs – one that will produce the next generation of American manufacturers.
It should focus on sustaining and growing American manufacturing by rewarding innovation and fostering entrepreneurship and pairing those great American strengths to a great workforce.
As someone committed to progressive values, I have long believed that the best way to help stabilize neighborhoods and support families, to advance social justice and fight poverty is through ensuring more and more Americans have access to good, quality jobs.
I am encouraged President Obama chose to highlight competitiveness and innovation in his State of the Union address and its potential to create sustainable middle class jobs. He is right to call this our generation’s “Sputnik moment.”
We have a choice: we could keep doing things as we have for years, but then we’ll simply keep getting the same results. Or, we can recommit ourselves, as we did as a nation during the Space Race, to out-innovate, out-compete, and out-produce every other country.
That is how we, once again, can spark an era of growth and prosperity.
Unlike so many other sectors, with manufacturing it's not just about creating jobs, it's about creating and sustaining goodjobs – jobs that pay a livable wage and provide quality health insurance, jobs with longevity and security.
According to the National Association of Manufacturers, the average manufacturing worker in our country earned roughly twenty-five percent more than workers in all other sectors – that’s over seventy-two thousand dollars last year, including pay and benefits, while the average non-manufacturing worker earned less than fifty-nine thousand.
Manufacturing jobs mean higher wages and better benefits. They have for decades been a reliable path to the middle class for millions of hard-working American families.
That path is not nearly as wide or clear as it was just ten years ago. Since then, our nation has lost more than three million manufacturing jobs, not only to the developing world but to other industrialized nations as well.
For those who have lost jobs, the stakes couldn’t be higher, for we as leaders our mandate cannot be clearer.
I strongly disagree with those who believe that America’s leadership in manufacturing is behind us, and that our future lies in being a country dedicated to services and consumption, financed by debt.
Those naysayers point to the factories sprouting up across the developing world, with its cheaper labor and looser environmental and worker protections – key reasons why we have seen millions of our manufacturing jobs moved offshore.
However, while labor-intensive commodity manufacturing may in fact have permanently moved to the developing world, we can remain a global leader in innovative and high performance manufacturing, as we are today in industries ranging from aircraft to pharmaceuticals, if we will just focus our efforts on creating an encouraging environment in tax and trade policy, in education and training, that matches the strength of American engineering and innovation.
Many Americans may not realize it, but ours remains the number one manufacturing economy in the world. We still produce a fifth of all manufactured goods worldwide, and this sustains more than eighteen million private sector jobs.
Advanced manufacturing businesses know that to achieve the quality and productivity they need, they must find a top-notch workforce, modern infrastructure, and a fair, predictable system of regulations.
I learned this firsthand when I was working in the private sector at a company called W.L. Gore and Associates. Most may know it for discovering and marketing Gore-Tex fabrics, but it is a materials-based science company that manufactures hundreds of products, from medical devices to wire and cable. At one point, I was part of a site location team that had to decide where to build a new state-of-the-art manufacturing plant costing more than a hundred million dollars.
It could have been anywhere in the world, but we wanted to build it right here in America. We considered many U.S. cities and states that were bidding for the plant and ultimately made our decision.
What made the difference? What were we looking for? First and foremost, a skilled and reliable workforce. Second, we wanted the state, county, and city governments to be responsive and to have made investments in local infrastructure. While we also considered tax credits and training grants, an educated workforce and responsive local government were the main factors that attracted our business.
When we visited the site we ultimately chose, our team was greeted by area educators who told us all about their strong public education system.
City leaders informed us public infrastructure we would need, such as water, electricity, and sewer, and ready access to road, rail, and air transportation, was already in place at the proposed site.
When we asked city officials how long it would take to obtain our building permits, they said: “Just send us your blueprints.”
Everything was “ready to go.”
In the end, we were able to stand up a successful and profitable new venture in record time, and to achieve significant growth in the local tax base and economy, offering hundreds of clean, high-tech manufacturing jobs to a responsive community.
That experience on the site selection team taught me two things: the advanced manufacturing sector can really thrive in America, and we in government have a critical role to play.
It will be the private sector and America’s entrepreneurs and innovators that will create jobs. It is our job in government, though, to ensure our country is the most attractive choice for business investment.
We can do it by reducing bureaucratic hurdles and investing in an educated workforce capable of high productivity and ongoing innovation.
That’s the critical role we can play not only in getting Americans back to work but ensuring a bright and prosperous future for America’s middle class.
Right now, far too many middle-class families are struggling not because they made poor choices but in spite of having made the right ones. People who worked hard in school, who raised good families, who served in the military, who gave back by volunteering in their communities – Americans who did everything right – in this recession, they still lost their jobs.
They need to know that we in Congress, are attentive to their needs and concerns, and that we have their backs.
The truth is, we are not going to be able to reopen all the plants that have closed and get those workers back on the assembly lines making the same products they used to make. This is why we must make this push for the environment that will sustain advanced manufacturing.
Thankfully, we’re not starting from scratch. Innovative businesses, including many from my home state, have long been leaders in creating new manufacturing jobs based on new inventions.
This, I believe, is the result of Delaware’s highly educated workforce and the state and local governments’ commitment to working with business as real partners toward growth.
One of the most compelling examples of this partnership took place over the past two years. More than one thousand people lost their jobs when General Motors shut down its plant in Newport, Delaware, in 2009, a plant that had been in production more than sixty years and was long touted as one of the most productive in the country.
Some of those workers packed up their families and sought work elsewhere in the country. Some stayed and found other work. Too many are still looking today.
But they weren’t the only ones looking for jobs. Led by our tireless Governor, Jack Markell, those of us in state and local government in Delaware were engaged in a job search as well, and after months of searching and hard work, we were able to bring Fisker Automotive to Newport, Delaware, to take over and reinvest in the shuttered GM plant. We did it by bringing together state and local officials, UAW union leaders, and federal tax credits and investments. This partnership could not have been possible without five hundred million in federal stimulus funds.
I was proud to be a small part of the team that brought Fisker to Delaware, but I’ll be even prouder to watch hundreds of Delawareans stream through the plant’s gates again when it reopens to build cutting-edge plug-in electric automobiles.
When I asked the leadership of the new company what made them choose Delaware, it was a familiar answer - a skilled and reliable workforce, a responsive state and county governments, strong local infrastructure, and access to global markets through our roads, rails, and the Port of Wilmington.
Fisker is just one example. In Delaware, we have recently seen DuPont, Ashland Chemical, Agilent, and Perdue invest in new facilities, new research or new production.
My state has also been at the forefront of high-tech job growth with innovative Delaware companies like ILC Dover, Solar Dock, and Miller Metal, as well as multinationals like Sanosil, Motech, and Fraunhofer USA that have brought jobs there.
I am proud that so many new products and technologies that are invented here are also “Made in America, Manufactured in Delaware.”
In Delaware, businesses have seen that we are “ready to go.”
In our state, we have the ability to bring together stakeholders often seen as adversaries and deliver productive collaboration. This involves labor and businesses making sacrifices and sharing responsibility.
We need to replicate this model and these successes over the country as much as possible.
Indeed, we are already seeing progress nationally, as the latest manufacturing numbers demonstrate. In 2010, our manufacturing sector grew a hundred thirty-six thousand new jobs. Some economists have predicted a further gain of more than double that this year.
Despite long-standing predictions that American manufacturing was in a permanent decline, we are actually seeing a modest uptick, one on which we should capitalize.
Mr. President, the formula for our economic success has long been the unstoppable combination of an innovative citizenry and investment in cutting-edge research. This is what generates companies that invent new products, often high-tech and research-driven products, and, along with these, create skilled jobs right here in the United States.
Investments in an educated workforce, our public infrastructure, and critical funding for research and development will be the keys to both short-term economic recovery and long-term growth. These investments have to coincide with efforts to make it easier for Americans to start and expand small businesses and for multinational companies to locate advanced manufacturing here in America.
As we embark on this renewed effort, we must continue, to safeguard the important workplace safety, labor, and environmental protections we have put in place over the past decades. Our manufacturing growth must be a function of innovation, not a turning-back of the clock.
That is why I strongly support policies like extending the research and development tax credit, a new manufacturing tax credit tied to research and development done here, and in the extension of the Build America Bonds program for public infrastructure improvements.
We have unfinished work to do to change the focus of our tax and trade policies. We must stop providing incentives to move our productive work offshore. Instead, we should reward those companies that reinvest in America – in both inventing a new generation of products and in manufacturing them here.
We will also need to focus more of our attention on clean-energy manufacturing. Government investment in clean energy technologies has been a core factor in our competitors’ growth. We need to help our own businesses to compete with them to catch up.
I was disappointed, frankly, that the Senate was unable to reach an agreement to include the Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit in the bipartisan tax relief package we passed last December. It is an example of the kinds of policies that will help spur the innovation, manufacturing, and new deployment that will generate clean-energy jobs. I am encouraged, though, that it included funding for the Treasury Grant Program, which leverages private investment in clean-energy projects, for which I pushed along with a number of my colleagues to be included in the package.
Additionally, if we wish to remain on the cutting edge of new clean-energy manufacturing technologies and retain our place as the global leader in scientific innovation, we need to pass more legislation like the America COMPETES Act. In addition to creating ARPA-E, which makes strategic investments through the federal Department of Energy in game-changing technologies, it also focuses resources on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.
I am proud to have been a cosponsor of the America COMPETES Act, which was so actively championed by my predecessor, Senator Ted Kaufman, who served Delaware so well. This is just the type of legislation that I came here to support.
We need to find additional ways to expand educational opportunities for more of our students, especially in these fields essential to future competitiveness. There is vital work to be done in ensuring that our business leaders are at the table as we renew America’s education policy, helping make certain that our schools are educating our children for the demands of the modern workplace.
This is especially critical in light of recent international test scores that once again showed American students falling behind their competitors from Asia and Europe in reading, science, and math.
A strong educational foundation is the launching pad for new ideas, which will soar to become tomorrow’s products and industries.
To achieve this, we must have a strong federal investment in great teachers and strong schools, to set high standards matched with the resources to achieve them, and to engage parents, communities, and employers.
We should never settle for just recovery. We must reach for the prosperity and growth I know we can achieve together. We can do it if we make these critical investments and changes in direction today.
That is why I am excited to get to work with my colleagues on a number of important legislative projects. Because I believe we need to redouble our efforts to protect the fruits of that innovation through stronger protections for our intellectual property, I am proud to be an original cosponsor of the Patent Reform Act and look forward to working with Chairman Leahy on the Judiciary Committee toward its passage.
Likewise, I found out this week that I will be serving on the Foreign Relations Committee, and I will be pushing for us to be tougher on our trading partners to ensure fairness and a level playing field for American exports, as well as new efforts to expand the range of our overseas markets.
I am honored to be a new member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committees, and I am eager to work with Chairman Bingaman, Senator Murkowski, and the other members on finding ways to spur clean-energy manufacturing here in America.
As a member of the Budget Committee I look forward to working with my colleagues there to identify ways to address the deficit comprehensively and in line with our necessary priorities of simplifying the tax code, investing in our workforce, and incentivizing manufacturing job growth.
Outside of these committee assignments, I’m excited to get to work reinvigorating the Senate Manufacturing Caucus with many of my colleagues, including Senators Stabenow of Michigan, Brown of Ohio and Graham of South Carolina. We’re going to renew this chamber’s focus on what voters sent us here to do: restoring our economy by getting our neighbors back to work.
The American people have at times grown frustrated with the Senate because it seems as if this body has not realized the scale of our nation’s challenges; that legislators have taken a piecemeal approach to important policies and have failed to address our most difficult problems comprehensively.
Why are we not looking at tax policy, education policy, and job growth strategy collectively? Our problems are interrelated, and the solutions must be as well.
Likewise, our budget deficit should not be treated merely as a talking point or a source of partisan advantage, but rather as the serious threat that it is. Real deficit reduction will come only with a careful approach and a willingness to share in the sacrifice.
Working together, we can change how we get things done here, and we can find a way to do it without jeopardizing the Senate’s vital role in our political system.
Even more importantly, at a time when many worry about the tone of our politics, we as Senators must do all we can to return this body to its founding mission as a stabilizing force in our political system.
The Senate must lead by example and for this nation to be a source of civility, a beacon of cooperative spirit, and a place where we come together to address our greatest challenges.
That’s how we’ll move forward together to solve our problems. That’s how we’ll boost our manufacturing sector and get millions back to work. And that’s how we’ll build a strong, prosperous, and sustainable future for America’s middle class.
Those who have lost their jobs are doing their very best they can to find new ones. We owe it to them to do our best, too – to be determined and deliberate, to focus on progress not partisanship, to be true to our principles, but not so unyielding in our positions that we make more news than progress.
These are serious times, and our nation – our people – face tough challenges. I look forward to working with each and every one of my new colleagues to bear down and work together to find innovative solutions, real solutions that will build a brighter future for all Americans.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.