By Samantha Maziarz Christmann
Rep. Chris Lee's background is in manufacturing, and he wants to make sure that vital segment of the U.S. economy stays strong and grows.
The freshman lawmaker visited Buffalo Tungsten, a 61-employee company in Depew, on Thursday to unveil a plan aimed at bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States.
Lee's plan, "Manufacturing for Tomorrow," calls for tax relief, education, tort reform, customs reform and supporting trade agreements to open up new international markets.
Current policies penalize private enterprise rather than promote it, Lee said. The changes he proposes would shore up the private sector to create jobs.
"Without a strong manufacturing sector, we will not create the types of jobs that will keep our kids here in Western New York," said Lee.
Ralph Showalter, president of Buffalo Tungsten, said the U.S. must not lose its manufacturing competitive edge.
"[The United States] is still No. 1 one in the world in manufacturing, but China is gaining on us rapidly, and we need to discuss the issues that will keep us competitive," Showalter said. "People don't realize how important manufacturing is to our economy."
Showalter's firm makes tungsten and tungsten carbide powder used to make a variety of products, including mining tools, heating elements, lightbulb filaments and medical equipment.
Lee pointed out that the United States currently has the second-highest corporate tax rate of the top 30 industrial countries in the world at 39.21 percent, just under Japan's 39.54 percent. He proposed cutting the U.S. tax rate to 25 percent to make U.S. companies more competitive and to allow them to invest more money in employment and machinery.
As an incentive to draw more young people into the manufacturing field, Lee proposed the creation of a student loan forgiveness program for students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
"We need our best and brightest to become engineers. We need to stop sending them to work on Wall Street. We have enough personal injury attorneys; we don't need any more," Lee said.
Tort reform, including a "loser pays" policy, a cap on punitive damages and a reasonable statute of limitations, is also critical, Lee said. Manufacturers' high cost of liability and insurance premiums makes it difficult to compete with companies that do not have such a high rate of "frivolous lawsuits."
"It's a job killer. It's not enhancing our economy. It's destroying our economy," he said.
Also important is enhanced enforcement of border patrol and customs laws to clamp down on counterfeit and pirated goods that cost American companies.
Lee also proposed strengthening current trade agreements as well as the Manufacturing Extension Partnership programs that help small American businesses grow and enter the global market.
"This is not that difficult. These are simple solutions, but they require politicians to look at the long-term view rather than the rearview mirror," said Lee.
Lee helped his father, Patrick Lee, run International Motion Control. The company was sold to ITT Corp. in 2007 for $395 million.