MARYLAND HEIGHTS, MO. (July 27, 5 p.m. ET) — Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank visited custom injection molder Wilco Molding Inc., in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights, for a discussion on boosting American manufacturing and reshoring jobs.
Some of that work includes extending middle class tax cuts and offering tax breaks to companies that bring jobs back to the United States — two plans proposed by President Barack Obama, Blank said.
The government also needs to support innovation — a cornerstone of American manufacturing — and focus on rebuilding the country's aging infrastructure, she said.
Other problems need to be tackled on a state and local level.
“Red tape” can make it difficult for smaller businesses to expand and hire new workers, Williams said, relaying Wilco's problems with a recent minor expansion.
The company purchased two new machines and built a small, three-walled addition to the factory to house one of them. Wilco has not been able to obtain the necessary permits for the new room, so the machine is currently unusable, he said.
The numerous applications and other paperwork have added thousands of dollars in costs to the already $300,000 investment, he said.
Manufacturers are also having trouble recruiting skilled workers. Dustman and Williams agreed that the perception of factory work makes it difficult to attract young people to manufacturing jobs.
People seem to think that factories are hot, dimly lit, and bad for workers' health, and that jobs require wielding heavy tools and machinery, instead of the air-conditioned, highly-computerized workplaces they really are, he said.
“Jobs are very good paying, it's a good environment…the perception of manufacturing is not really the reality of the business,” he said.
As older workers retire, it becomes increasingly harder to replace them, Williams said. Especially in Wilco's Die-Tool-Machine Co. division, where becoming a skilled mold maker requires years of apprenticeships and training.
The United States is falling behind in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and needs to attract students, especially women and under-represented minorities, to these fields, Blank said.
The United States also needs to invest in education at all levels — from students who attend community college to learn to operate machines to students who attend grad school and work to innovate manufacturing, Blank said.
Even if politicians tend to focus on the short-term during election years, the country needs to look at investments that will help American businesses long-term, she added.
“We need more good quality products stamped with Made in America and we want more Americans proud to get up everyday and go to work at their jobs,” Blank said. “In short, we want America to retain its place as the most competitive player in the global economy.”
Wilco's family of companies includes three members – Wilco Molding, Wilco Die-Tool-Machine and Wilco Automation LLC. The firm, which does not disclose sales, has 26 employees.
The family-owned business started in 1951. Founder Stanley Williams Jr. passed away May 24. In his introduction to Blank's speech, Kim Williams paid tribute to his father.
“He would be proud to see everybody here. He really would.”