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Op/Ed: We Can Regrow Manufacturing Jobs

By Rep. Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh)

The question that continues to trouble us all is the fundamental way in which we are going to create jobs in Upstate New York and across the country. As we continue to recover from the economic downturn, global shifts, particularly in Southeast Asia, present New York and the nation with distinct opportunities to grow – particularly in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors.

In the Press Republican on Sunday May 29, Paul Grasso wrote a compelling piece that focused on the return of manufacturing jobs to the United States. There were some important pieces of factual information in his article that point to our ability to renew American manufacturing, including a net increase in manufacturing jobs in 2010, and the fact that 21 percent of the world’s manufacturing still takes place in America, compared to 15 percent in China and 12 percent in Japan. In addition, changing conditions in Asia make a compelling case for reshoring manufacturing jobs in the U.S., including slowing growth in the Chinese stock market (down from a 25 percent increase to 5 percent), rising wages and middle class agitation in China, the weakening of the U.S. dollar, rising fuel and transportation costs, and increasingly complex international security and compliance issues.

All of this means that with ingenuity and flexibility, Americans can renew U.S. manufacturing. Personally, I would pay more for goods made in America by American workers if given the opportunity, and I suspect that many Americans share that sentiment.

Similarly, changing global conditions present opportunities for U.S. and New York agriculture. It is widely reported that consumption of staples like wheat, rice, corn and soybeans continue to outpace production, and Southeast Asian countries like China and India are unable to produce sufficient agricultural crops to feed their growing populations. Under a pending free trade agreement, Korea intends to increase imports, from $1.9 billion to $3.8 billion (44% to 89%) more in agricultural products from the United States in the coming years, as do Columbia and Panama, although to a lesser extent.

These conditions offer great opportunity to structure our federal and state policies to facilitate job creation through farming for export in addition to farming for internal consumption. Along those lines, I have encouraged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish a program to facilitate putting many of the closed farms in Upstate New York back in production for the growing of commodities for export. This type of program would create jobs for farmers, allowing many in our communities to do what they most love, which would help ancillary small businesses like farm equipment dealers and seed producers to continue to grow.

If we are to grow jobs in the North Country and across America, innovative programs must be embraced. We can in fact bring manufacturing back from China and increase the number of farms in our communities if we take a businesslike approach to these issues. If you have ideas of how we can grow jobs and not burden the taxpayer please contact my website at www.owens.house.gov and share your innovative idea.