Business, Political, Labor Leaders Converge in Pittsburgh: “Let’s Build a High-Wage Manufacturing Sector”

Summit Coincides with Release of Pennsylvania Agenda on Revitalizing Good-Paying Manufacturing Jobs in the Keystone State
Date of Press Release: 
October 19, 2017

PITTSBURGH, PA – The Keystone Research Center (KRC), the leading Pennsylvania progressive think tank, this week released “An Agenda for Growing High-Wage Pennsylvania Manufacturing Jobs.” The report coincided with a manufacturing summit held this week in Pittsburgh, which brought together leaders from across sectors to focus on strategies to help blue-collar workers in the region. This week also saw the launch of a two national policy papers from the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative at The Century Foundation (TCF) on how to build a strong, inclusive and high-wage manufacturing sector in America; and publication of an op ed in Sunday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on how to revive manufacturing in Pittsburgh, written by two of the summit’s organizers.

At the summit, elected and appointed city and state public officials, labor and small business leaders, and economic and workforce development experts shared success stories and 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. This event is 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, especially Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania, are still struggling after decades of disinvestment,” said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation 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.”

Many participants built on various economic development strategies discussed in the Pennsylvania-specific paper published today by the Keystone Research Center, An Agenda for Growing High-Wage Pennsylvania Manufacturing. The agenda, developed with input from Pennsylvania business, labor, and non-profit organizations, includes five elements: (1) establish a statewide Manufacturing Council; (2) promote reshoring and retain existing manufacturing jobs; (3) expand financing for manufacturing and innovation; (4) build skills for 21st century making; and (5) 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 new 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.”

The first of the two national papers published today, 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 the attack on labor unions, cuts to social programs, and tight monetary policy, and offers several approaches to create access to well-paid, skilled blue collar jobs, such as 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 Andrew 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 TCF 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. All research is part of the High Wage America Project, a policy and research program led by The Century Foundation's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

Among the speakers at today’s event included the President of the United SteelworkersLeo Gerard, who delivered a keynote address focused on the importance of high-paying manufacturing jobs for working families; Pennsylvania State Senator Kim Ward, who chairs the Senate Manufacturing Caucus; Dennis Davin, who currently serves as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Community and Economic DevelopmentPittsburgh Councilmember Natalia Rudiak, who chairs the City’s Finance and Law Committee; and DeWitt Walton, Allegheny County Councilmember.

“The SVA 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, Executive Director of the Steel Valley Authority. “It is time for a new jobs and investment coalition that will mobilize capital, and solutions in rust belt cities and states to fight for a broader, more inclusive economic recovery. I’m honored to be a part of this new Century Foundation initiative to explore innovative policies to rebuild the heartland and push for better-paying jobs for all Americans.”

Additional Quotes from Summit Participants

“The AFL-CIO and its affiliate unions are committed to expanding the manufacturing sector and making sure it provides family-supporting jobs in Pennsylvania and across the United States. The Century Foundation is making an important contribution to shaping the polices we need to succeed, and the Pittsburgh summit is bringing together a community of partners that can make a difference for working families and their communities,” said Brad Markell, Executive Director, AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council.

“Our important advanced manufacturing sector faces two existential challenges. They face the “skills gap” and the challenge of finding adequately educated and trained employees who can do the work in 21st Century manufacturing; and the “succession gap”— finding the next generation of owners for small privately-held manufacturing companies that face the “grey tsunami” and the retirement of millions of employees, managers, and owners from the baby boom generation. With the right public policies and investment, these challenges become a huge opportunity for young people and aspiring entrepreneurs, particularly in inner city communities,” said Dan Swinney, Executive Director, Manufacturing Renaissance.

“There’s a lot of optimism, and a lot of opportunity, about revitalizing manufacturing and manufacturing communities in the Midwest. Union pension capital is a key to enabling the return to economic growth of the region. Through our Midwest at Work initiative, we plan to invest more than a billion dollars of labor’s capital to make that happen,” said Ted Chandler, Chief Operating Officer of the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust.

“Manufacturing has made a dramatic comeback in Pennsylvania and continues to advance through the strength of Governor Wolf’s strategic economic development initiatives that emphasize education, collaboration and innovation. 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,” said Dennis Davin, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

“The USW has seen first-hand the devastation caused to working families and communities by Wall Street and finance capital when jobs have been moved overseas. We have no choice but to fight bad trade deals and seek ways to bring good-paying jobs back to America. The Century Foundation ‘High Wage America’ initiative has launched a Tour of the Heartland to examine efforts to bring back manufacturing while seeking ways to extend a real recovery to depressed urban neighborhoods and former mill communities. The strategic research and action papers show how labor’s capital and labor-community coalitions at all levels can be mobilized to sustainably rebuild our economy,” said Leo Gerard, President, United Steelworkers.