PITTSBURGH – A summit to discuss ways of bringing high-paying manufacturing jobs to the region included leaders from across sectors to focus on helping blue-collar workers in the region Tuesday.
During the summit held at United Steelworkers headquarters in Pittsburgh, city and state public officials, labor and small business leaders, and economic and workforce development experts shared success stories and re-committed to raising wages and spurring economic growth in the Rust Belt and beyond.
The need for greater public-private-nonprofit partnerships was a recurring theme throughout the event, with speakers repeatedly emphasizing the need to translate recent advances in technology and innovation into good-paying, Made-in-America advanced manufacturing jobs. The Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative at The Century Foundation, a leading progressive think tank, released two new papers focused on how to build a strong, inclusive and high-wage manufacturing sector in America.
A heartland push
The Pittsburgh event was the first part of TCF’s High Wage America project to work with communities across the heartland to advance policy change and revive local economies.
“While parts of the country are beginning to feel the effects of the economic recovery, including an overall increase in the number of manufacturing jobs across the nation, too much of the industrial Midwest, including Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania, are still struggling after decades of disinvestment,” said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at TCF and author of several recent reports on revitalizing manufacturing.
“Today’s Summit, however, shows that people across the Keystone state are committed to making manufacturing a central component of the region’s economic agenda. The tide here, too, is beginning to turn,” Stettner said in a news release.
The first of the two national papers published Tuesday, “A Vision for a High-Wage America,” was authored by TCF experts Jeff Madrick and Michael McCormack. The report examines the deliberate policy choices since the 1970s that have contributed to a low-wage economy, including an attack on labor unions, cuts to social programs and tight monetary policy.
It offers several approaches to create greater access to well-paid, skilled blue-collar jobs, such as the government acting as an employer of last resort and more vocational and career education programs.
The second paper, “Revitalizing America’s Manufacturing Communities,” authored by Joel Yudken, Thomas Croft, and Stettner, provides a blueprint for how local communities can take action to spur innovation and evolve from traditional manufacturing to high-tech, advanced manufacturing industries.
The new reports are the latest in a series of papers on rebuilding manufacturing as a source of high-wage jobs and economic growth, including an overview of manufacturing’s role in the economy released in June, proposals focused on the federal government’s industrial, tax, and trade policies published in September, and a paper outlining how policymakers at all levels could leverage the $2 trillion per year spent on government procurement processes to increase domestic manufacturing and create quality jobs, particularly for historically disadvantaged workers and struggling communities.
Speakers at the Pittsburgh summit included Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, who delivered a keynote address focused on the importance of high-paying manufacturing jobs for working families; state Sen. Kim Ward, who chairs the Senate Manufacturing Caucus; Dennis Davin, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Community and Economic Development; Pittsburgh Council member Natalia Rudiak, who chairs the City’s Finance and Law Committee; and DeWitt Walton, Allegheny County Council member.
"The Steel Valley Authority has worked for decades to retain and re-shore good manufacturing jobs and marshall the hundreds of billions of dollars held by workers’ pension funds to reinvest in our communities. Many of our friends around the region have been doing the same. But it’s not enough,” said Tom Croft, SVA executive director. “It is time for a new jobs and investment coalition that will mobilize capital, as well as solutions in rust belt cities and states to fight for a broader, more inclusive economic recovery.
A growth agenda
Many participants built on various economic development strategies discussed in the Pennsylvania-specific paper published Tuesday by Keystone Research Center, “An Agenda for Growing High-Wage Pennsylvania Manufacturing.” The report outlines a manufacturing policy agenda comprised of five elements:
• Establish a statewide manufacturing council;
• Promote reshoring and retain existing manufacturing jobs;
• Expand financing for manufacturing and innovation;
• Build skills for 21st century making; and
• Boost demand for Made-in-Pennsylvania manufactured goods and products.
“The manufacturing policy agenda in Pennsylvania has the potential to catapult the Keystone State to the front of the U.S. manufacturing renaissance, boosting the growth of good jobs, wages, innovation and profits,” said Stephen Herzenberg, an economist with the Keystone Research Center and author of KRC’s paper. “Building on our state’s storied history of manufacturing, we can confound the skeptics and make Pittsburgh and the state a poster-child for growing innovative, high-wage manufacturing.”
“Manufacturing has made a dramatic comeback in Pennsylvania and continues to advance through the strength of Gov. Wolf’s strategic economic development initiatives that emphasize education, collaboration and innovation,” said Davin. “Whether it’s through technology that helps improve efficiency and productivity – such as 3D printing, robotics, automation and autonomous tech – or technology that helps connect companies to consumers through new software developments and digital platforms, innovation is driving growth in manufacturing, and pushing our commonwealth forward.”