By Kent Mallett
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, made his first Ohio campaign stop Wednesday at a Licking County company.
Romney brought his pro-business message to Screen Machine Industries, a leading manufacturer of portable screening and shredding equipment, located just south of Interstate 70 in Etna Township.
Steve Cohen, president of Screen Machine, gave Romney a tour of the plant after a roundtable discussion that included the candidate; some Ohio manufacturing executives; Licking County Chamber of Commerce President Cheri Hottinger; State Rep. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark; and Pataskala Mayor Steve Butcher.
Romney spoke to a couple hundred supporters and local business and government leaders inside the Screen Machine factory, telling them he will not allow China to cheat U.S. business if he becomes president.
"For every $1 we sell to China, they sell $4 here," Romney said. "We have the largest trade deficit in the history of the world, and we can't let that go on. For too long, we've let China cheat.
"We can compete with anyone so long as trade agreements are fair and we insist other countries abide by those agreements. That has not been happening. That must change."
Romney said the solution is neither trade isolationism nor the current trade imbalance. He said the U.S. needs to trade with other countries, but it must be fair trade.
"Some people think trade with other nations is not good, and I hear that a lot," Romney said. "The truth is that is not the truth. Trade ought to be good for us. But that doesn't work if other nations cheat."
Romney said candidate Barack Obama told the country he would "take China to the mat" on its trade policies, but President Obama has not followed through on that promise.
"We thought he meant the wrestling mat, but he meant doormat," Romney said.
Cohen, who appears on Romney's website in a video critical of Obama's trade policy, said Chinese companies show on their web sites pictures of his machines with the Screen Machine name replaced with their own company name.
"There doesn't seem to be any effort, at all, to combat intellectual property theft in China," Cohen said in the video. "Without this protection, you're going to find American companies such as us very leery about opening up business in China.
"What we have with the Obama administration is not helping our company expand and is not creating the atmosphere to allow us to create new jobs."
The Republican candidate said the current economic uncertainty is the enemy of investment and growth, but he proposes seven friends of manufacturing growth.
The seven friends are: Tax rates competitive with other countries; streamlined regulation and bureaucracy; trade policies that work for the U.S.; energy polices that allow the U.S. to use its own energy; enforcement of the rule of law; institutions, such as schools, that build human capital; and a balanced budget.
"I appreciate what you do here," Romney told the employees. "I care about manufacturing. There are people in this country who believe we can let manufacturing go to other countries."
Cohen said the struggling U.S. economy has forced his company to sell outside the country. Screen Machine sells in the Middle East, Africa, Canada and Mexico.
"We had to go out and find where new markets are, and the business is not in the United States," Cohen said.
"There's no infrastructure construction, no residential construction and no commercial construction. That's the heart of our business and with all three tanking, we have very little (domestic business) to go after."
Romney said his background is mostly in business, except his time as Massachusetts governor, so he doesn't look at issues from a government perspective.
"I spent only four years in government," Romney said. "I joke that I didn't inhale.
"I have a good sense of what it takes to make an economy survive and grow. The recession was made deeper and longer than it should have been, and the recovery uneven."
The Democratic National Committee released a statement Wednesday about Romney's record as governor.
"With a job record like Mitt Romney has, it's no wonder he's doing everything he can to avoid talking about it during his trip to Ohio today," the DNC stated. "During his time as governor of Massachusetts, the state ranked 47th out of 50 in job creation and manufacturing jobs declined at twice the national average."