Hoyer to pitch manufacturing plan with emphasis on entrepreneurship

Manufacturing proposal comes as Congress has stalled on business interests.

Rep. Steny Hoyer and other Democratic lawmakers plan to outline a broad strategy for expanding U.S. manufacturing in Baltimore on Monday, at a time when Washington has stalled on measures sought by the industry.

The strategy, which Hoyer will discuss in Port Covington, retools the "Make it in America" legislative effort the Southern Maryland lawmaker has pushed for years. Though short on specifics, the program now includes greater emphasis on entrepreneurship.

Congress has put on hold several proposals championed by the manufacturing lobby and other business groups, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement brokered by the Obama administration and a reduction of the nation's corporate tax rate.

"Many Americans still haven't found good, steady jobs in the aftermath of the Great Recession and — rightfully — feel left behind by our recovery," Hoyer plans to say, according to an advance copy of his speech reviewed by The Baltimore Sun. "There is much more Congress can do to help American businesses harness the changes in our economy."

U.S. manufacturing output expanded in the years immediately following the recession of 2007 to 2009, but still has not returned to pre-recession levels. About 12 million Americans work in manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, down from more than 14 million in 2006.

Roughly 106,000 Marylanders work in manufacturing.

Hoyer and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore will speak at Port Covington, where the real estate firm owned by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank has proposed a multibillion-dollar mixed-use project.

The event will coincide with the formal opening of The Foundery, a "makerspace" that will provide industrial-grade tools and classes to the public.

Under Armour plans to open a manufacturing and design center later this month at City Garage on West Dickman Street.

The sports apparel maker describes it as part lab, part design studio and part production center. The company has scheduled a June 28 "official opening" of the Under Armour Lighthouse: Manufacturing & Design Leadership Center.

The long-term goal is for Under Armour products to be made closer to the markets where they are sold — in the United States for domestic consumers, in Brazil for South Americans, and in China for the Chinese.

But outside of a few bright spots, the state's manufacturing industry continues to struggle, according to some measures. A report from Ball State University's Center for Business and Economic Research last week gave Maryland a "D" for its overall manufacturing climate.

Center director Michael Hicks said signs of improvement in recent years could lift Maryland's grade in future reports. But the state's biggest challenge, Hicks said, are taxes that are not only high but don't pay for themselves with a deep bench of human capital.

"The changes that politicians like to make are usually very short-term," Hicks said. "But the decisions [by manufacturers] to expand or contract are long-term decisions."

Government can have an impact, Hicks said, by focusing on improving public schools, for instance, or investing in infrastructure.

Those are exactly the kinds of ideas Hoyer's plan includes: Spending more on science and engineering education, trying to increase collaboration between schools and businesses and investing more in highways and ports. The strategy is broadly broken into four areas: Expanding entrepreneurship, closing the skills gap, improving infrastructure and breaking down barriers to domestic manufacturing.

Hoyer aides said the ideas were developed from a series of hearings organized with stakeholders and experts

But his presentation for Monday contains no specifics on how to accomplish those ideas. It doesn't say how much more money should be spent on infrastructure, or how that spending would be funded.

Congress has debated but not advanced a broad infrastructure spending measure since at least 2009, when it passed the controversial economic stimulus package.

Hoyer aides said specifics will be filled in with future legislation.

It is largely Democrats who have slowed progress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That deal, which the National Association of Manufacturers lists among its top priorities for the current Congress, has met with opposition from labor and the party's presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

Hoyer, generally a supporter of free trade, has not taken a position on the pending agreement.

Another federal priority for businesses is the corporate tax rate, which members of both parties want to reduce as part of an overall restructuring of tax code.

The problem, though, is that no one can agree on how to accomplish that. The effort has languished for years — and almost certainly will not advance amid a presidential election.

"Success on both policies will help fuel the manufacturing economy, which means more jobs and more growth here in the U.S." said Aric Newhouse, of the National Association of Manufacturers.

Baltimore Sun reporter Lorraine Mirabella contributed to this article.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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