BY Larry Avila - Post-Crescent
American manufacturers moving production overseas because of cheaper labor costs isn't a new trend, though it's one U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen wants to stop.
Citing his office's research, Kagen said 60 percent of U.S. households live paycheck to paycheck while 40 percent of households have not saved at least $10,000 toward retirement.
"This is happening because we are not making things in America," he said. "Free trade agreements have allowed jobs to shift overseas."
Manufacturing jobs helped build the middle class in the U.S. However, as those jobs moved overseas for lower labor costs, fewer opportunities for new generations of workers were available to maintain that group.
"What I want everyone to know is we have to start making things in America again," Kagen said. "Those are high-wage, family supporting jobs that allow you to educate yourself and your children so that we can sustain the middle class."
Kagen recently visited Brownsville, Texas, and hoped to go into Matamoras, Mexico, which is across the border.
Kagen wanted to visit a fabrication facility there, which was built by Louisiana-based Shaw Group Inc. and opened in 2008. The company in a statement on its website released in 2007 said it built the plant in Mexico because of availability of skilled labor and proximity to its suppliers and its clients projects.
He said U.S. Border Patrol recommended against going into Mexico because of security concerns, so Kagen didn't visit the plant.
Though Shaw opened a plant in Mexico, it announced in August 2008 it was building a new assembly facility in Louisiana, which was expected to go into operation in 2009 and employ 1,400 people.
Mark Buss, business manager for the Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 400, said more emphasis is needed to keep U.S. manufacturing jobs from going overseas.
"It's not just Mexico, but China and South Korea," he said. "If we can somehow even the playing field, we can compete with anyone."
Kagen said additional emphasis is needed on emerging industries, including clean technology and energy.
He has drafted legislation that would require trucks to be converted to run on natural gas. Many details still need to be worked out on the bill.
It's also important to find alternate energy sources to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign energy, Kagen said.
Natural gas, for example, would be a viable alternative, since the nation has ample supplies, he said.
Kagen said the nation's businesses also need access to credit sources. Stricter lending standards have made credit difficult to access.
"It's a problem that needs to be fixed," he said. "Credit-worthy companies should be able to access the resources they need."
Kagen said he is working to ease some restrictions.
"We need job growth and that will come from small businesses, those with fewer than 500 employees," he said.