Getting the attention of lawmakers in Washington is not always as simple as taking a trip to the Capitol.
Steve Schler, president of ProMold Inc. of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, found that out personally. He and a group of toolmakers and machine-shop owners from northeast Ohio were invited to a small-business forum in the Capitol in June. The event was sponsored by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and featured a grouping of top-ranking Democrats.
Schler came with an agenda: to tell elected officials to get serious about untying China's currency from that of the United States. It is a fair-trade argument espoused by many in manufacturing.
Schler left the meeting grateful for the opportunity but unimpressed. First, lawmakers in his trade breakout session were called away after a few minutes for a vote, leaving aides to field the discussion.
Then, in a wrap-up session, the issue became a polemic against Republicans and their ties to big business. Pelosi said the problem is not with the Chinese government, Schler said. Instead, it rests with big-business interests taking an aggressive stance on currency to benefit the desire to transfer jobs to the Far East, Pelosi said.
Whether or not one agrees with the reasoning doesn't matter. What matters is the debate became partisan. That begs a question: How effective is the plastics industry at gaining the attention of Congress? With U.S. manufacturing jobs shrinking fast, one would think the message is not a secret inside Congress.
Yet, individual action can only take the problem so far. Although the inside-the-Beltway mentality is an overused phrase, lawmakers sometimes have a different agenda. Yet, progress is being made. Matthew Coffey, president of the National Tooling and Machining Association in Fort Washington, Md., said it takes a constant hammering to make those themes common knowledge with lawmakers.
Groups representing processor interests are being invited to policy sessions in Washington, and grass-roots efforts have started in several states, he said.
Schler and others have joined the Northeast Ohio Campaign for American Manufacturing. The newly formed, Cleveland-based group opposes the currency manipulation by China and other countries that buy U.S. dollars to keep the exchange rates lower, said campaign secretary John Colm.
NEOCAM includes an amalgam of others, including two area chapters of the NTMA and the local chapter of the American Moldbuilders Association. A town hall meeting is planned Aug. 26 in Independence, Ohio, that Colm said could attract 500 people.
The fight for manufacturing jobs should not be a partisan one that divides Democrat and Republican, big business and small company, chief executive officer and line worker. It affects all.
Schler isn't worried his Washington trip didn't turn out as planned. He is concerned that once the economy picks up, companies will be too preoccupied to commit to the bigger issues.
It's difficult to stand up in front if no one is behind you, he said.
Joseph Pryweller is a senior reporter for Plastics News in Akron, Ohio.