Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on the Future of American Manufacturing: Maintaining America's Competitive Edge

March 2, 2011

Chairman RockefellerWASHINGTON, D.C.—Welcome to today’s hearing. I’m pleased Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is here to share his ideas on the future of American manufacturing. I’d also like to welcome Congressman Steny Hoyer. As House Minority Whip, Congressman Hoyer has been leading the charge to strengthen America’s middle class by “Making it in America” again. 

Over the last century, manufacturing was the engine of America’s prosperity. Henry Ford’s assembly lines were a model of industrial efficiency, providing jobs and good pay to American workers at the turn of the century. During World War II, Americans’ prowess and productivity turned the tide of the war and cemented our place as the world’s largest and most dominant manufacturing economy. 

After the war, the world watched as America continued to build, make and create. Great American icons, like General Motors and Boeing, grew and prospered. American manufacturing became synonymous with ingenuity and American know-how. The jobs it supplied grew our economy. A large, vibrant middle class was born.

But today’s manufacturing sector is a shadow of its former self. In the last decade alone, more than 5 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared and 57,000 factories have closed.

Even America’s iconic inventions – and iconic brands – are no longer made here. Mattel Toys – the largest toy company in the world – closed their last American factory in 2002. 65 percent of their products are now made in China. The last time a pair of Levi jeans was made in America was in December 2003.

Across the nation, plant shutdowns have devastated small towns and communities. I’ve seen it happen in West Virginia. When a factory closes, it creates a ripple effect with far reaching consequences. It’s not just the plant workers and their families that suffer, but the entire town. Local shops and restaurants lose business. Tax revenues go down, impacting schools and emergency services.

Now, there are some who say our manufacturing decline is inevitable. They claim that we do not need an industrial base; and that as long as we keep high-value work in the U.S., we’ll be fine. I couldn’t disagree more. That policy is usually espoused by people who sit at desks for a living and have not ventured into America’s industrial towns.

This country cannot subsist as a service economy. We will not thrive as a nation if we do not make things. In order to get our economy humming again, we need to buy – and make – American. Here’s why: On average, manufacturing workers get higher pay and more generous benefits than Americans in non-manufacturing jobs. Where manufacturing goes, research and development tend to follow.

Manufacturing has one of the largest multiplier effects in our economy. It is estimated that 2.5 additional jobs are created for every one manufacturing job. Think about it. Where there are factories, there are suppliers. Where there are suppliers, there’s a supply chain of producers –and more workers. And where there are workers, there are restaurants, cultural establishments and stores to sustain and entertain them.

Today, I want to hear from you, Secretary Locke, on what more we can do to grow America’s manufacturing sector and create more good-paying jobs. 

I have some ideas about the role Congress can and should play. I’m proud of the work this Committee has done funding new investments in science, technology, engineering and math education. We recognized some time ago that if we are to prepare the next generation of workers for advanced manufacturing jobs, we need a highly trained workforce.

But there is more to do and no time to waste. Manufacturing is a jobs issue – plain and simple – and we must get this right.

This hearing is the first in a series I will hold on manufacturing and jobs in America. I want everyone’s best ideas on how we can encourage more manufacturing. These ideas, in turn, will serve as the basis for legislation to rebuild American manufacturing and make our country better, stronger and safer. 

I look forward to hearing from you today. Thank you.