Congresswoman Jackie Speier

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OP-ED: Make it in America once again

June 14, 2012

San Mateo Daily Journal
By Jackie Speier
The Make-It-In-America (MIIA) test has one question that most of us probably can’t answer accurately. How much of what we own was made in our country? Inventory your clothes, television, kitchen appliances, cellphone, etc. — chances are that most items were not made here. Now that I have a clearer sense of my MIIA acumen, I’ve made a concerted effort to buy American-made products when possible.

There is no official MIIA test, but it does serve to underscore why we should care where products are made. Economists estimate that if every American spent an extra $64 per year on domestic products, 200,000 new jobs would be created. In addition, many modern manufacturing industries have important scientific underpinnings that contribute to jobs in multiple sectors of the economy, thus adding to quality jobs across the economy. For example, automobiles made with both human and robotic labor use software that was probably created by a skilled computer programmer. This same programmer might later turn her mind toward writing code for a surgical robot.

The good news is that manufacturing is rebounding. Since 2010, almost 500,000 new jobs have been created and manufacturers are looking to fill an additional 250,000. Trouble is that they sometimes have a hard time finding skilled workers. The problem is so severe that the industry even coined a term for it: skills gap. According to the Manufacturing Institute’s 2011 Skills Gap Report, 67 percent of manufacturers report a moderate to severe shortage of available qualified workers and 56 percent predict the shortage will worsen over the next three to five years — a shortage that affects the ability of American manufacturers to expand operations and improve productivity.

The nature of manufacturing changed long ago. Gone are the days of simple, repetitive assembly line work. Today’s manufacturing companies need machinists, operators, craft workers, distributors and technicians skilled in math, engineering and science. There must be a coordinated effort among educators, workforce development professionals and companies to train the next generation of employees to fill these desirable positions. Manufacturing provides solid-paying jobs that support middle class families — on average a manufacturing job pays $77,000 per year, including benefits, compared to $56,000 per year for a non-manufacturing job. The number one skill lacking in workers, manufacturers say, is problem-solving. That is a fundamental skill every student should gain in his or her education. It is ironic that with the painfully high unemployment in the United States, the manufacturing industry is unable to fill about 5 percent of its jobs because it can’t find candidates with the right skills. This 5 percent translates into about 600,000 jobs.

Many of us, myself included, complain that companies are manufacturing their products overseas. We are enticing companies to return but, if there aren’t sufficient skilled workers here at home, why should they reinvest in America? The desire for in-shoring does exist and is probably growing. Contributing to this trend are increasing labor and transportation costs in China. Several companies have made the decision to bring part of their process back to America; for example, Caterpillar recently moved 2,400 jobs from Japan to a plant in Georgia. Toyota announced it will create 80 new engine-assembly jobs in Georgetown, Ky. next year, increasing that plant’s total employment to 6,700. A small company in the Bay Area that makes spill-proof plastic bowls, Calibowl, just moved its manufacturing process from China to California. Calibowl and its subcontractor currently employ 22 workers and expect to grow to 30-35 workers by the end of this year. Every return to our home shore is important. Every job in the United States helps multiply the money spent locally.

To boost awareness in MIIA, I sponsored an exhibit at the San Mateo County Fair that featured American manufacturing companies. Ford showed off a brand new Focus Electric; Intuitive Surgical allowed fair goers to perform surgery with its American-made da Vinci surgical robot; Lockheed Martin presented a three-dimensional video of its latest solar research based upon American-made scientific instruments; Mission Motorcycles brought electric, zero emission “Zero Motorcycles”; and Boudin Bakery provided samples of its world-famous sourdough bread. And yes, we had some of those magical containers from Calibowl.

Let’s create a workforce that can stamp our products with the three simple words “Made in America.” As consumers, let’s vote with our pocketbook and demand products that carry that stamp. If we make things in America once again, American families will make it, too.

Jackie Speier represents San Mateo County and part of San Francisco in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

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