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May 23, 2016 Q&A

Murphy pushes 'Buy American' reforms in Congress

PHOTO | HBJ File U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) discusses the state of manufacturing in Connecticut.

Q&A talks with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy on steps he's taking in Congress to strengthen Connecticut manufacturing.

Q: Since being elected, you've embarked on a series of “Monday Manufacturer” tours. What are they and what's the impetus behind them?

A: I launched my 'Monday Manufacturer' series a year and a half ago to highlight the impressive contributions Connecticut's diverse manufacturers make to our state's economy and to our local communities. Supporting our manufacturing economy and creating new jobs is a priority for me in the Senate. There's an untold story about Connecticut manufacturing in the 21st century — it's a high-tech, growing sector with jobs in demand. Our story is as much about the big household names like United Technologies, Electric Boat, and Stanley Black & Decker, as it is about the hundreds of small, mom-and-pop suppliers all across the state. My hope is that my 'Monday Manufacturer' series will help draw attention to this critically important sector, their contributions to education and skills training, and the policy reforms we need to revive manufacturing in Connecticut and across the country.

Q: What are some of the things you've learned on these tours? What do you plan to do with that knowledge?

A: Visiting local manufacturers and talking to owners and employees firsthand is incredibly valuable. I bring the feedback I hear back with me as I work in the Senate on policies that support American manufacturing jobs. One of the main reasons I'm so committed to fixing our broken Buy American laws is because I've heard firsthand from Connecticut manufacturers who lost business or were even forced to close because the federal government awarded contracts to foreign companies.

Q: As HBJ recently reported, there is a projected 600,000 worker shortage in manufacturing, which currently employs 12 million nationwide. What are your plans for closing that gap? 

A: The demand for skilled workers is a great sign — it means our manufacturing sector is growing. Community colleges, technical high schools, and apprenticeship programs are on the front lines of closing the skills gap. In the Senate, I'm working hard to bring funding back to Connecticut to support these programs. Specifically, I helped secure federal grants to expand job training in advanced manufacturing, including a recent federal 'Ready to Work' grant that will train over 500 long-term unemployed workers in information technology, engineering and advanced manufacturing skills.

Q: One of your initiatives has been to force the U.S. government to consider American employment when it comes to buying goods. Where does that initiative stand and why is it just focused on the Department of Defense?

A: My 'American Jobs Matter Act' is a very simple proposal: The Defense Department should give preference to American manufacturers when awarding federal defense contracts. Most people assume that this already happens, but it doesn't. Every job that we create overseas by awarding contracts to foreign firms is one fewer job here in America. It's time to change that.

The American Jobs Matter Act is currently being considered by the Senate Armed Services Committee. While this specific bill does focus on the Department of Defense, which is the source of the majority of federal manufacturing contracts in Connecticut, I'm working on a variety of other efforts to better enforce our existing Buy American laws and close the most egregious loopholes in every government agency.

In fact, I introduced the “21st Century Buy American Act” that would modernize Buy American requirements and close loopholes for all federal agencies. I've also introduced amendments to audit potential Buy American violations in agencies like the Department of Energy and the Department of Transportation.

Q: On your website you say the trend of manufacturing jobs going overseas can't be halted. Why not? Hasn't there been cases of companies attempting to take manufacturing to foreign countries only to return when the workforce quality wasn't sufficient?

A: There is no denying that modern manufacturing relies on an increasingly globalized supply chain. I strongly believe that our goal must be to increase our share of the global manufacturing economy generally, but especially in the areas of high-skill, high-demand advanced manufacturing, such as aerospace and medical devices.

I have been deeply involved in President Obama's National Network for Manufacturing Innovation Program. By creating a nationwide network of advanced manufacturers, we can improve coordination and help bring innovative ideas to the marketplace quicker than foreign competitors. We may not be able to reverse the trends of certain manufacturing being shipped overseas, but we do have an opportunity to use our country's competitive advantages to capitalize on emerging, high-demand manufacturing sectors.

Q: One of your goals is to support training in advanced- manufacturing skills. How is Connecticut and the country in general doing when it comes to teaching basic manufacturing skills?

A: The pipeline from high school to college to the workforce should be integrated and well-managed. To ensure high school students are prepared for good-paying manufacturing jobs, schools must focus on teaching basic science, engineering, math and computer science skills. At the college level, students should have access to the machines that they will work with on the job. For example, Electric Boat is partnering with the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board to give community college students access to hands-on training in anticipation of their surge in demand for new workers.

We also need to do a better job of convincing students and parents that manufacturing of today is different than manufacturing of the past. It's not a dirty, dangerous profession, but rather well-paid and high-tech, done mostly on computers in bright, clean work spaces.

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