A beautiful glass storefront on the hip 14th Street corridor in Washington, DC seems like an unlikely place to start a conversation about our nation's industrial heritage. But there's really no place better.
That storefront is the latest retail outlet of SHINOLA, an astonishingly successful Made in America goods manufacturer that is putting a lot of people to work in its hometown Detroit, defying the skeptics.
The founders of companies like SHINOLA and Filson show what's possible with the right amount of grit and ingenuity, a dedication to quality, and a fervent belief in the American worker.
Despite a steep employment downturn that started in 2000 and has only recently started to creep back in the positive direction, America still makes things - and, just importantly, the jobs in this corner of the economy still pay more for those with less than a four-year college degree.
That brings us to today - October 2, 2015. Also known as Manufacturing Day. Thousands of events across the country are underway that will open factory doors to young people exploring job opportunities.
I'm happy to be celebrating manufacturing and Made in America. Heck, I do it every day. But I must admit: I get a bit aggravated by politicians who readily treat factory workers and their hardhats as political props but fail to deliver on public policies that would help more Americans get these good jobs.
During the 2012 election cycle, for instance, the American factory floor was the most ubiquitous image in political advertising. It featured a pledge from the stump by President Obama to create 1 million new manufacturing jobs during his second term, a goal he's not close to reaching. To be fair, this administration and Congress have worked together on some key manufacturing issues, such as research funding and skills training, but those are the exceptions to the rule.
Today, not much has changed on the campaign trail. There's lots of rhetoric coming out of the various 2016 presidential contenders about getting tough on trade and reshoring jobs - Donald Trump's hot air about penalizing companies for moving jobs offshore springs to mind - but it's all very short on specifics.
The specifics shouldn't be this hard to come by. They aren't hiding anywhere; it's not like we don't know what will work to boost America's manufacturing sector and bring back more of those jobs to which Trump and other candidates so often allude. Here are a few:
- Pass a long-term infrastructure bill. This is something that nearly every American, regardless of political affiliation, wants to see happen, because we all drive on the same crumbling roads and ride the same aging rails. A better infrastructure network in the states would mean U.S. manufacturers could get their goods to market faster, and building it would put a lot of people to work.
Even agreeing to half of these proposals would constitute a major step toward a national manufacturing strategy, something our country could sorely use.
In fact, here's a thought: By the time Manufacturing Day 2016 rolls around, we'll still be waiting to find out who the next president will be. He or she could make a big splash well before that by actually spelling out their Made in America plan - and then getting it done. We stand ready to work with the administration and Congress to deliver.
Browsing the glass cases at SHINOLA on 14th Street, it's easy to see what's possible in the face of considerable odds. Supporting American makers and workers is the first step. You can do it with your own pocketbook by checking out made in America options, and you can do it with your voice and vote by ensuring our leaders know that manufacturing matters - not only on Manufacturing Day, but on every other day too.