Guest MINDSETTER™ David Cicilline: How to Reclaim Rhode Island’s Manufacturing Legacy
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
As the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Rhode Island has always identified itself as a center for manufacturing.
Whether it was textile mills in Pawtucket, rubber factories in Woonsocket, shipbuilding assembly lines in Newport, or the jewelry shops throughout Rhode Island, manufacturing gave our state its identity and provided economic security for countless working families over generations.
As the U.S. Congressman for Rhode Island’s First District I recently took part in a panel discussion on manufacturing at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. as the first event held under the auspices of the John Hazen White, Jr. Forum on Public Policy to study manufacturing. And, as the forum underscored, policymakers at every level in our state need to work together to enact a comprehensive strategy that recognizes the importance of our manufacturing sector in providing more Rhode Islanders the long-term economic security they need.
A comprehensive strategy to put our state back to work should begin with training our workforce so Rhode Islanders have the skills they need to compete for 21st century manufacturing jobs. We owe it to our young people and adult workers to make sure that they are equipped with the knowledge to navigate a global economy – especially its manufacturing sector. John Hazen White, Jr.’s company, Taco, Inc., has been doing this since 1992 with its own workforce right here in Rhode Island, and competes successfully on a global basis.
Lawmakers should be working to enact comprehensive workforce development legislation that meets the needs of employers and helps build a pipeline of skilled workers ready to compete in the 21st century economy.
My legislation to establish a Make it in America Block Grant Program, for example, would provide targeted federal grants that will help small to medium-sized manufacturers to retool their factories and retrain their workers – focusing resources in states, cities, and towns that have been hardest hit by the recession. The Brookings Institution recently highlighted the legislation and called for greater attention to the proposal. Similarly, legislation like the AMERICA Works Act would help workers obtain certifications, degrees, and qualifications for high demand jobs in manufacturing.
In addition, we need to take concrete steps to help our small businesses, start-ups, innovators and entrepreneurs succeed in Rhode Island. Small businesses are our economic engines. In fact, in Rhode Island in 2010, 90% of all private sector employers were small businesses with fewer than 20 employees. These small firms provided jobs for more than 25% of the state’s private sector workforce.
And, in order to provide sustained demand for the goods our small businesses produce, we have to protect and strengthen our middle class. A critical portion of this strategy is to put more money into the pockets of middle class families, in part, by extending tax cuts for middle class families and targeted tax credits that help businesses create jobs and strengthen the economy.
But none of these initiatives will get our state moving again unless we devote our time and energy to making things in Rhode Island. In our state, and throughout the country, we need to ensure that we can take advantage of new manufacturing opportunities and market conditions. The House took an important step recently in passing the American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act, legislation I co-sponsored, which calls for a comprehensive national strategy to support manufacturing through policies that promote economic growth, competitiveness, innovation, and the creation of well-paying jobs.
In addition, we need to give Rhode Island manufacturers a fighting chance by leveling the playing field in tax and trade policies. We need to overhaul our overly complicated and inefficient corporate tax system while also implementing tax policies that reward companies for keeping well-paying manufacturing jobs right here in America.
The Offshoring Prevention Act, introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in the Senate and myself in the House, would end tax policies that encourage companies to ship jobs overseas. In addition, the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act would end the practice of our trading partners, especially the Chinese, devaluing their currency to gain an unfair trading advantage.
Unfortunately, in the past year, too many of our leaders in Washington have failed to set aside politics in the pursuit of a bipartisan agenda to get our country moving again.
This needs to change. In my work for Rhode Island I am going to continue to bring together lawmakers from both parties to reinvigorate manufacturing and create an economic climate that enables our state to thrive.
From Samuel Slater through the mid-20th century, Rhode Island was defined as one of our country’s leading manufacturing states. It’s time we reclaim that legacy and make Rhode Island a manufacturing center of excellence again.
David Cicilline represents Rhode Island’s 1st District.
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