Thursday evening I attended the “Keep It Made In America” Town Hall in the John Spitzer Conference Center at Lorain County Community College, an impressive, large campus. Lorain, Ohio is another town with closed factories, boarded-up houses, high unemployment, and ringed by the national big-box vulture chains whose business model is to suck the remaining funds away to Wall Street.
Driving into Lorain
As you drive from town to town in Michigan and Ohio you see one after another a ring of the “big box” stores and national chain stores around each city. You also see the “brownfields” of rusted-out, closed factories, empty, falling-down buildings. Then you go to the downtown and you see boarded up houses, empty storefronts, deteriorating and deteriorated communities, idle people standing on corners. As you drive into these towns you can just see what is happening in a nutshell.
You used to hear about how Wal-Mart was predatory, how it would show up in an area and after a while the downtowns would dry up, local business-owners would go broke, local business employees would be laid off, and the local people would have to work for low wages at Wal-Mart, while the region’s spending money would go off to the wealthy few who run these things.
Well a juicy story of devastation like that one gets around, and there are those who hear it and say, “Hey, that’s a great idea, I wanna get me some of that.” So the Wal-Mart business model has taken off and now there are any number of these vultures, ringing the cities and towns around the country, so often private-equity owned. They are draining away the lifeblood of the downtowns, fighting off the unions to keep wages down, even demanding tax breaks to move in and “create jobs.” You see all the same stores circling every town now, running all of the local and regional businesses unto the ground.
Here are some pictures from the inner Lorain area but you see it all around: (click for large)
The Lorain Town Hall Meeting
As I said, the meeting was at Lorain County Community College. The turnout was good, a number of candidates, local officials, and people from the community.
The opening speaker was Congresswoman Betty Sutton. “Manufacturing is the backbone of our economy. It’s the backbone of our nation. We’re aware here in Northeast Ohio that it created and promises to support the idea of a middle class.”
Sutton talked about the bill passed recently by the house that confronts Chinese currency manipulation. She hopes the Senate will also pass this, but we all know how difficult it is to get anything through the Senate. She also said that unlike Wall Street shuffling paper money around, what creates real value is the manufacturing of goods, which supports four surrounding jobs in the economy for every manufacturing job.
Following the opening remarks Scott Paul of the Alliance for Ameican Manufacturing presented a number of facts about manufacturing in Ohio and the country. 624,700 people work in manufacturing in Ohio, down from 1,021,000 in 2000. 39% of Ohio’s manufacturing jobs were lost in the last decade. For the country the last decade was the worst ever, worse than great depression. We lost 1/3 of all manufacturing jobs with 50,000 manufacturing facilities closed.
“When I grow up will there be jobs in America?”
Next came a panel, moderated by Scott Paul, with
- Larry Taylor, Plant Manager, US Steel Corp’s works in Lorain
- Dave MaCall, Director of District 1 for the United Steelworkers, USW in Ohio
- Kelly Zelesnik, Dean of engineering technologies at LCCC Elyria
A video of a question from a young person in Lorain: “When I grow up will there be jobs in America?” was asked of the panel.
MaCall: there will be jobs, because we have to take action, have to level the playing field. Things we need to do. Not be protectionists, have fair and balanced trade. But we need net exports. That’s how we grow. Every other country has a value-added tax so when someone makes a product that country writes a value-added check, so it is a subsidy on them and a tariff for us. America’s Visa card has run out.
We have 100 million tons of demand for steel in the US, has been for decades, last year demand was 60 million tons. Huge numbers of people laid off, from lack of demand, lack of consumption, and illegal trade.
Kelly, LCCC is partnering with manufacturing. LCCC invested in needs of community, 2 of 4 cornerstones of the college are education and economic development. LCCC is helping grow local economy with a new sensor center to develop and commercialize sensor technology. Industry and educational partners and entrepreneurs to access the center to develop and test prototypes and shorten the time to send products to the market as well as train employees. The center is an attractant to new businesses.
MaCall: We need national policies like every other country has. Businesses need to know there is a policy in America that will make sure there is access to capital, etc. For green startups, it is hard for companies to make investment when other countries helping their industry and we are not. Wall Street gets refinanced, now they’re holding it back, won’t let small businesses have access at reasonable rates.
Paul Q: What is the role in trade laws to keep steel competitive and on level playing field?
Taylor – We need strong trade policies that are strictly enforced. If they are not enforced they do no good, if we have this there will be jobs in future, level playing field. We stopped China on the steel tubes, but now other countries are producing subsidized product, we don’t get government subsidies, they do, we must have strong policies that we enforce.
Over and over I am hearing these themes emerge: trade is good but stop illegal trade practices, level the playing field to enable us to compete, put together a national policy, improve trade education and training, invest in our future.
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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The last three photos by Ike GITTLEN: USW