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Washington Needs to Refocus on Manufacturing Jobs | Commentary

Congress hasn’t given Americans much reason this year to believe it can work together in the country’s best interest to help create jobs. That needs to change.

It’s time for Washington to refocus on manufacturing jobs instead of manufactured crises.

The United States is primed for a manufacturing revival, and there’s a lot Congress can do to restart this vital economic engine. Although you wouldn’t know it from watching the news, there’s actually no shortage of good ideas from both parties for helping our manufacturers grow and create jobs.

On Tuesday, 21 of my Senate colleagues and I are launching a new effort, dubbed Manufacturing Jobs for America, to help translate those good ideas into good manufacturing jobs across the country.

The campaign features more than 40 measures — many that have bipartisan support — to spur job creation in manufacturing and lay the foundation for stronger economic growth far into the future. These senators will work together to build bipartisan support for these bills, to get them hearings and ultimately to earn votes on the floor.

Manufacturing jobs are high-quality jobs — they pay more on average and have better benefits than jobs in other industries — and they lead to gains throughout the economy. Every new manufacturing job we create adds another 1.6 local service jobs, and each dollar in manufacturing sales adds another $1.34 to the local economy.

Investments in manufacturing fuel innovation. Manufacturers are the country’s number one investors in research and development, filing 90 percent of all patents and funding two-thirds of research and development in the private sector.

While it’s true that a tough combination of lower wages and weaker labor and environmental protections abroad and higher productivity here at home has meant a loss of millions of manufacturing jobs over the past 20 years, there’s no reason to believe these developments spell the end for American manufacturing. Manufacturing in the 21st century is fundamentally different than it was in the post-war 20th-century boom, but the United States still holds key advantages that should make us optimistic about a new era of American manufacturing.

The good news is, we already have the tools to modernize our manufacturing sector. As a result of dramatic changes in energy costs, ongoing investments in research and development, and a relatively skilled workforce, American manufacturing is poised to take off. Half a million manufacturing jobs have already been created in the past three years.

We also face a better competitive landscape, as rising wages throughout the developing world and growing concerns about protecting American inventions and innovation make the idea of shipping American manufacturing overseas less attractive.

With a concerted effort at congressional leadership across at least four areas, we can help our resurgent manufacturing sector reach its full potential.

First, we must strengthen America’s modern workforce. We need to build better coordination between our schools and manufacturers so that Americans of all ages can acquire and sharpen the skills companies are looking for. Studies by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte Consulting show a persistent gap between skills needed for advanced manufacturing and the training delivered in our high schools and community colleges. They estimate more than 600,000 manufacturing jobs went unfilled in 2012 due to a lack of skilled workers.

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