A growing movement for a stronger and more equitable manufacturing sector in this country is gaining momentum. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) has indicated she will introduce legislation in the coming weeks that will lay out plans and funding to support innovation, sustainability, supply chain resiliency, and equal opportunities and inclusion in the manufacturing sector.
“We are drafting legislation at this moment,” said Schakowsky at the June 21st event. Schakowsky sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has one of the broadest jurisdictions of any congressional committee.
This movement aims to transform the manufacturing sector. While the sector was once 27% of the nation’s gross national product, now it is only 12%. The need for manufacturing jobs, however, remains great. The National Association of Manufacturers estimates that 2.1 million jobs will need to be filled in the sector before the end of the decade. In Chicago alone, 58,000 manufacturing jobs currently need to be filled. Meanwhile, during the pandemic, our country was often unable to meet immediate needs for manufactured goods during the pandemic.
Focus on the manufacturing sector and its role in strategies for community and economic development was the topic at the June 21 CMRC event, which brought together a diverse group of leaders and advocates for manufacturing including manufacturers, workforce development, labor, educators, social services, faith, and other areas. The group is convened by Manufacturing Renaissance.
“What we are talking about is a bottom-up strategy for building on manufacturing needs,” Schakowsky said at the event. The strategy will focus on equity and inclusion. A key component, she said, will be a national Manufacturing Renaissance Corporation that will create manufacturing councils across the country and provide financial support, technical assistance, and training for manufacturing revival efforts. The corporation’s goals will include increasing manufacturing’s share in the gross national product; reducing greenhouse emissions; identifying skills gaps, and assisting small companies in finding talent including new owners.
“We want to make sure that communities have a say,” Schakowsky said. “That’s why we will have these councils across the country to make decisions that work locally.”
This movement is building at an opportune time, as advocates for the sector have connected with a growing number of key legislators who support this effort, including Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA). Leaders have come together to form the Manufacturing Renaissance Agenda, a multi-faceted coalition that has met with White House advisors to address key issues that will shape American industrial policy. The White House has expressed strong support for a comprehensive jobs plan in recent months.
The Agenda calls for a manufacturing sector that expands the middle class, increases inclusion, creates stronger education and workforce systems, and prioritizes sustainable development.
Schakowsky said that when we look at the current manufacturing sector, this country faces two existential challenges. “First, there’s the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation, which means that many jobs will be at risk if we don’t assist companies where leadership is aging out.” She also pointed out the “negative misperception of manufacturing in this country” and the great opportunity to sector can “offer for talented people.”
In addition to Schakowsky, panelists at Monday’s event included:
- Danny Davis (D-IL), who is also supporting this effort.
- Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, which pursues economic, racial, and gender equity in education, health care, and work;
- Timothy Wright, an attorney and minister who was formerly commissioner of economic development during the Harold Washington administration. Wright also served as Director of Domestic Policy in the Clinton White House, and
- Steve Rauschenberger, a former Republican state representative. He is also the outgoing president of the Technology & Manufacturing Association.
Davis said this moment could transform the manufacturing sector. “The best program is a job,” he said. “If we put emphasis on manufacturing and creating opportunities to meet the challenges of our time, we can have the America that we know it can be.”
Dan Swinney, Founder, former executive director and current Senior Advisor for Manufacturing Renaissance has worked with panelists and many participants in this event for years. “This is a broadly bi-partisan issue,” he said. “We clearly need to rebuild the manufacturing sector. If we don’t, we’ll be marginalized on a global scale. We want to build this movement city by city, county by county, state by state. “
“Manufacturing has been seen in the past as a dead sector,” Swinney added. “What we’re trying to do now is ‘build it back better.’”
Erica Staley, Executive Director of Manufacturing Renaissance, added that Monday’s event and continuing efforts to grow this sector reflects the growing power of this movement. “We are building a big tent, with many different voices – civic, business, labor, workforce development, career pathways training, and others. We must stay focused and reflect these interests as we move forward.”