Two ex-governors propose rebuilding manufacturing

A commission headed by two former governors – one Republican, one Democrat – released a report Friday arguing that the health of the American middle class depends on a revival of manufacturing.

Since the 1950s, the sector has suffered decades of decline in employment and some industries have gone entirely overseas, according to the report by the University of Virginia Miller Center commission. “It is no coincidence that the promise of the American Dream… has become more difficult to attain.”

Nationally, there are about 12.1 million manufacturing jobs, down from nearly 20 million in 1979. That long decline has occurred as the total workforce has grown from 98.3 million to 145.8 million. In the early 1950s, more than three of every ten jobs were in manufacturing.

In Georgia, manufacturing employment peaked in late 1997 at 556,700, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Currently, there are roughly 361,000 manufacturing jobs in Georgia.

The University of Virginia commission is chaired by former governors Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Evan Bayh of Indiana. One of the panel members is Jennifer Clark, an associate professor in the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech.

In the report, titled “Building a Nation of Makers,” the commission proposed six ways to speed up innovation for America’s small and medium-sized manufacturing companies.

They include:

— Government-backed loans to companies for hiring and training workers.

— Programs that give college credit for work experience, military training and other off-campus acquisition of skills.

— A “skills census” in which employers would be surveyed by state governments on their “current and projected skills needs.”

— “Mapping” America’s supply chain to help figure out what business needs in infrastructure and new technologies.

— More intense training for high school students in technology and engineering and certification for acquiring those skills.

— A Commerce Department’s program to link small and medium-sized manufacturers with the latest innovations.

“The main goal is producing quality employees for our workforce so (small and medium sized manufacturers) can grow, prosper and provide more jobs, higher pay, better benefits, local and regional economic growth and a bigger, more competitive American economy: That is the social benefit, first and foremost,” said Barbour and Bayh in a written statement.

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