Opinion: Manufacturing can help get Ga. past COVID-19

February 16, 2021 Suwanee - Carl Thurston runs a machine at Winton Machine Company in Suwanee on Tuesday, February 16, 2021. Atlanta-headquartered Winton Machine engineers high quality, American-made tube fabricating solutions and has manufactured over 100 different tube fabricating machines. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
February 16, 2021 Suwanee - Carl Thurston runs a machine at Winton Machine Company in Suwanee on Tuesday, February 16, 2021. Atlanta-headquartered Winton Machine engineers high quality, American-made tube fabricating solutions and has manufactured over 100 different tube fabricating machines. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

President Joe Biden recently reported great news about job growth and other signs of a strong economy. Georgia is no exception—all indications point to us moving past the economic hardship COVID-19 inflicted. The latest numbers show that job creation is up, particularly in my industry. Georgia’s joblessness has reached pre-pandemic lows.

To keep that progress going and help our economy reach new milestones, there’s a short list of things to be done. First — and perhaps most importantly — anyone who can safely get vaccinated against COVID-19 has to get their shot. Second, the people who make policy in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., need to focus on keeping our economy competitive.

Vaccines will help all of us get back to a normal way of life. COVID-19 disrupted everything; In our personal lives, it forced us to worry about protecting ourselves and our loved ones, while in businesses like mine, it meant reevaluating how to keep our nearly four dozen employees safe and stop virus spread.

February 16, 2021 Suwanee - Portrait of Lisa Winton, co-owner, at Winton Machine Company in Suwanee on Tuesday, February 16, 2021. Atlanta-headquartered Winton Machine engineers high quality, American-made tube fabricating solutions and has manufactured over 100 different tube fabricating machines. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
February 16, 2021 Suwanee - Portrait of Lisa Winton, co-owner, at Winton Machine Company in Suwanee on Tuesday, February 16, 2021. Atlanta-headquartered Winton Machine engineers high quality, American-made tube fabricating solutions and has manufactured over 100 different tube fabricating machines. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

That’s why I recently got my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. I’m doing everything I can to protect my family — at home and at the factory. This vaccine makes me feel so much more excited and energized for the future than I have felt in a long time. And I’m doing my part to encourage others to join me in rolling up our sleeves so that we’re all protected and armed against COVID-19.

But if we want to create more jobs and grow the economy, there’s more to be done — and manufacturers like me can’t do it alone. My industry’s national campaign to build the workforce of the future, Creators Wanted, must be met with a renewed push by federal and state leaders for education, particularly at the technical level.

Many Georgians don’t know about open jobs at companies like mine, but these jobs require technical expertise, certifications and training that we don’t see in the typical high school and college track. We can fix that by reevaluating our curriculum and educating parents of K-12 students. Georgia has been leading the nation with its 22 technical colleges, 88 campuses and more than 600 programs. We need to continue these efforts with greater federal and state prioritization of earn-and-learn and training programs that let young people develop hands-on experience in skilled trades. We need to reach children earlier by educating parents about the numerous career opportunities for high-paying jobs in modern manufacturing.

Supply chain issues have also been on everybody’s mind since COVID-19 arose. The pandemic reminded us how fragile our pipeline of natural resources and inputs can be — any international incident or slowdown can completely disrupt operations here in Georgia. Congress can fight this by providing incentives to create more jobs domestically, so that our local supply chains are strong enough to power through any disruption.

Doing that requires sensible tax policy. The 2017 tax reforms gave my business a lot of flexibility and room for growth. As a small, family-owned manufacturer, we welcomed not just the increase in pass-through deductions for small businesses but also the significant reduction in corporate tax rates. That’s because the manufacturers for which we build capital equipment were able to use their tax savings to reinvest in their people, their technology and their communities, which in turn meant more work for my employees and for our suppliers.

But Congress is considering rolling back all that progress through rate increases, and that would be disastrous. A recent study from the National Association of Manufacturers (my company is a proud member) showed that tax hikes currently under consideration could — among other things — cost 1 million jobs in just the first two years. Coupled with our shortages in skilled labor, supply chain challenges and higher increased raw material costs, higher taxes could make it much harder for businesses to get by. We should urge Congress to protect the competitive rates we currently have, because those rates are making this recovery possible.

These are challenges I’m confident we’ll overcome. If our country can begin to move past COVID-19, which seemed insurmountable this time last year, then we can move past anything — and into an optimistic, brighter future for our industry, for Georgia and for our country.

Lisa Winton is CEO and co-owner of Winton Machine, based in Suwanee.