- - Thursday, October 1, 2015

This morning when you looked at your calendar, you probably didn’t realize that today (Friday) is Manufacturing Day. Even though it’s not a national holiday (no, you don’t get to stay home from work), this day is still noteworthy. Manufacturing is vital to the American economy and to the nearly 18 million Americans involved in manufacturing and industrial work nationwide.

If you don’t think manufacturing is still important in this day and age, just consider that this sector alone contributes $2.1 trillion dollars to our economy. That’s an astounding one-eighth of our national GDP. Moreover, manufacturing jobs pay on average around $77,000 a year — roughly $15,000 more than the median wage for workers in all other areas of our economy.

Considering everything that manufacturing contributes to our society, it should be a no-brainer for our elected officials to support policies that help strengthen and support this vital sector. Presidents from both parties have embraced policies that have sustained and grown manufacturing in the United States over the years. And we’re a better country for it.

President Ronald Reagan, for example, used his political capital to work with congressional Democrats and implement pro-manufacturing policies that helped wipe away the gloom of the late 1970s. These efforts helped deliver “Morning in America” by his second term. Seeing what manufacturing does for the middle class, President Clinton picked up the baton from President George H.W. Bush and worked with industry to pass NAFTA.

During his 2012 campaign, President Obama said, “I don’t want the next generation of manufacturing jobs taking root in countries like China or Germany. I want them taking root in places like Michigan and Ohio and Virginia and North Carolina.”

To make this happen, the president has been aggressive in working on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership — two of the largest trade deals in history. They will position the United States as the economic hub for global trade and commerce. But there’s still more work to be done.

While Mr. Obama has been supportive of trade policies that strengthen our manufacturing sector, the recent fight over stricter environmental standards unnecessarily pits the White House against American business. It doesn’t help workers or our economy to subject manufacturers to punitive new regulations that will produce little, if any, environmental benefit.

The Obama administration could also do better when it comes to our nation’s tax policies. The U.S. corporate tax rate is the highest in the world. Our tax code creates confusion and drives American industrialists to explore loopholes to minimize their tax burden in order to compete globally. Lower overall rates would be better for American industries, businesses, and workers — not to mention the U.S. Treasury.

Our global competitiveness is hurt by other factors as well. For instance, Congress is unnecessarily hamstringing our business community by letting the charter of the Export-Import Bank expire. There is no need to let inflexible ideology get in the way of a successful program like the Export-Import Bank.

Coming out of the Great Recession, it seems clear that what is holding back American innovation and growth is not that our economy is fundamentally unsound. Instead, we are hampered by bad politics.

The 2016 elections provide an invaluable opportunity to debate the big ideas to set the country back on the path to prosperity. Those ideas can then be implemented through a bipartisan policy framework. However, this will only work if industry and government work together to ensure stronger and faster growth for our nation, our states, and our communities.

What was true in the early 20th century is true today — the business of America is business. As we reflect on Manufacturing Day, we should be proud of what American industry and ingenuity has done not only for our nation, but for the world. We should also demand that our policymakers work with, not against, the entire manufacturing industry to deliver a brighter future for all of us.

Michael Shue is a senior vice president and partner with DDC Public Affairs. He also serves as the global managing director for manufacturing and industrials for FleishmanHillard.

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