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Chippewa Valley Business Report - Inside the Beltway: Building a 'Made in Wisconsin' Manufacturing Economy


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By Tammy Baldwin

In Wisconsin, we have a long and proud tradition of making things: paper, engines, tools, ships -- and yes, cheese, brats and beer. We possess one of the largest manufacturing sectors in the nation, supporting a large share of our workforce and exporting goods all over America and the world.

Even as the national economy continues to rebound, in Wisconsin our economy isn't growing as strong as we need to create shared prosperity. The manufacturing sector that sustained our economy for generations must move forward at a stronger pace if middle-class families are to get ahead.

American manufacturing took a huge hit as a result of the 2008 financial collapse and ensuing recession. But through shear grit and determination we are coming back. U.S. manufacturing employment has increased by 554,000 jobs since February of 2010. Despite this positive trend, the sector needs to add 1.7 million jobs to return to pre-recession levels.

That is why I have focused my efforts in the U.S. Senate on working to strengthen our Made in Wisconsin manufacturing economy.

The first bill I introduced in the Senate last year, the Small Business Innovation Act, provides investments in economic growth not through direct government funding, but through increased access to venture capital investments for small business startups. The legislation seeks to help build long-term economic growth for Wisconsin by targeting growth industries, including advanced manufacturing, clean energy and water technology, among others.

Manufacturing has long been the backbone of our Wisconsin economy. This legislation recognizes that fact and targets industries that are engaged primarily in researching, developing and manufacturing products. It also strengthens our investment in the building blocks of an innovative, advanced manufacturing economy -- science, research and technology -- and can help us create an economy built to last.

Wisconsin families depend on our manufacturing jobs and I believe that if we work to give our workers a fair shot, we'll compete against anyone. This past month I joined Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley to introduce new legislation that would crack down on unfair trade practices, level the playing field for American manufacturing companies, and help create good-paying middle-class jobs.

The Level the Playing Field in Global Trade Act would ensure that sub-standard wages, workplace safety practices, and environmental protections are properly accounted for as unfair subsidies by foreign countries when calculating American duties intended to offset cheating. It also rewards companies that meet high standards on a global basis in wages, workplace safety and environmental compliance with streamlined trade and protection from enforcement actions.

In Wisconsin, we believe in hard work and your elected officials have a responsibility to make sure that it is respected and rewarded. That's why I'm taking on unfair trade practices and policies, and betting on Wisconsin workers and giving them a fair shot to compete and win.

Recently, I joined a group of 22 Senate colleagues who are working together to get Washington to refocus on manufacturing jobs. The Manufacturing Jobs for America initiative aims to build bipartisan support for legislation that will modernize America's manufacturing sector, help American manufacturers grow and create jobs, and assist American workers in getting the skills to succeed in the next generation of manufacturing jobs.

One of the challenges we must meet is making sure that our workers have the skills they need for the manufacturing jobs of the future. We are fortunate to have a strong technical college system that is working to provide Wisconsin businesses a skilled workforce so that they can compete and grow.

In January I am introducing legislation to help train the next generation of skilled workers for jobs in clean energy. The Grants for Renewable Energy Education for the Nation (GREEN) Act allocates competitive grant funding for clean energy career and technical training programs so that students are better trained for post- secondary education and better equipped for the high-skilled new energy jobs of the future.

Wisconsin manufacturing has long been an engine of innovation and a source of good jobs with high wages and solid benefits. The middle-class families, small businesses and manufacturers that are working so hard to move our economic recovery forward deserve to have both parties in Washington working together to grow our manufacturing economy and create jobs.

This coming year, I look forward to continuing my work across party lines to find common ground and strengthen our manufacturing sector. One thing both parties should be able to agree on is the need to create economic growth by investing in workforce readiness and advanced manufacturing innovation -- making us more competitive as a state and a nation.

Our "Made in Wisconsin" tradition, work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit deserve nothing less.

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