Manufacturing rising, challenge remains

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, October 7, 2015

By Rep. Bradley Byrne

As I was touring the manufacturing operation at Quality Filters in Robertsdale, I was struck by just how much manufacturing has grown in Southwest Alabama over the last decade. I paid a visit to Quality Filters to help celebrate National Manufacturing Day, which took place on Oct. 2.

We have seen a large increase in manufacturing all over Alabama, driven by our growth in the motor vehicle, chemical, and aerospace industries. In 2014, over 250,000 Alabamians worked in manufacturing. These manufacturing jobs paid an average of $60,945 while the average pay for other nonfarm businesses was $41,089. All told, manufacturing had a $34.4 billion impact on Alabama’s economy.

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Despite these impressive gains, manufacturers in Southwest Alabama and across the country are facing a wide range of challenges brought on by the federal government. Whether it is the EPA, IRS, NLRB, or OSHA, manufacturers must deal with regulations from an alphabet soup of federal regulators.

Even if you don’t work for a manufacturer, that does not mean these regulations won’t impact you. The regulatory costs are often passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices or fewer options.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is likely the biggest foe of manufacturing. Given the nature of the industry, manufacturers use a third of our nation’s energy, so they depend on affordable energy prices. Unfortunately, it seems like every day the EPA is putting out a new regulation that will drive up energy costs.

Take the EPA’s new ozone standard for example. The new standard is misguided and will be incredibly costly for our nation’s manufacturers. In fact, the new standard is so low that even some national parks could be out of compliance. At a time when ozone levels have already been reduced, it makes no sense to place additional burdens on our job creators.

In Congress, I have been a strong supporter of the REINS Act. This commonsense legislation would require Congressional approval of any regulation with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more. Many of the EPA’s proposed rules would fall under this category, and I am certain the Republican-controlled Congress would stop these costly regulations from moving forward.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has also attempted to increase the number of labor regulations impacting manufacturers. The NLRB’s “ambush elections” rule will shorten the time it takes to hold a union election and make the personal contact information of employees publicly available to union representatives.

Earlier this year, the House and the Senate passed legislation to block the ambush election rule from going into effect. Unfortunately, President Obama vetoed the bill, and the Senate did not have the votes to override the veto. Despite that setback, we are continuing to push back against frivolous NLRB regulations on manufacturers.

Another challenge to manufacturers comes in the form of a growing skills gap. Our nation is currently experiencing a shortage of skilled workers to fill certain manufacturing jobs. Without access to enough skilled workers, it’s becoming harder and harder for manufacturers to grow and expand their operations.

As a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, I have made it a top priority to improve our nation’s job training programs. We need to encourage collaboration between the private sector and institutions of higher learning, specifically community colleges and trade schools. This will help close the skills gap and give more Americans access to high paying jobs.

So while manufacturers are facing some significant challenges, there are also those of us in Congress who are committed to supporting manufacturing. So whether it is Quality Filters or other businesses in our area, I will do everything I can to support manufacturing and the thousands of jobs associated with the industry.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.