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Saving Connecticut’s Manufacturing Legacy

Author: Joseph Lieberman
November 21, 2003
Foreign Affairs


Senator Joe Lieberman, D-CT
Hartford Courant
November 21, 2003

More than 150 years ago, Connecticut's Samuel Colt launched a key stage in America's Industrial Revolution by mass-producing the revolver that bears his name. His technique was groundbreaking: the rapid assembly of interchangeable machine-made parts. Colt's work - and that of his wife, Elizabeth, who ran the family business after her husband's death - put our state on the map as the cradle of American manufacturing. To preserve that legacy, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd and I are fighting to make Coltsville a national park.

But manufacturing is not only about our state's past - it is also about our future. More than 5,500 manufacturing companies in Connecticut - making everything from machine tools to defense articles to medical devices - employ nearly 240,000 highly skilled, highly paid workers. In Hartford, New Haven and Fairfield, 1 in 7 workers are employed in manufacturing; in Litchfield and Windham, it's as high as 1 in 4. For each $1 million increase in sales that Connecticut's manufacturing sector generates, 13 new jobs are created and $718,000 in personal income is added.

Keeping Connecticut's manufacturing legacy alive, however, has been hard work. Nearly all sectors have been affected by the national economy's sluggish performance during the past three years, but manufacturing has been hit particularly hard. Exports of products have plunged and, as a result, our state has lost 26,400 jobs in the past 38 months, according to the Manufacturing Alliance of Connecticut. Connecticut has lost 33,500 manufacturing jobs since George W. Bush took office, and 900 in October alone. Employment in the state's manufacturing sector has been in continuous decline since August 2000.

What has the Bush administration done to stop the bleeding? Next to nothing. He has instead relied on factory photo-ops, toothless trade missions and new organizational charts. But these public relations efforts have not saved a single job.

Connecticut needs strong federal action to save manufacturing jobs. We need to strengthen enforcement of trade agreements; provide tax credits to keep manufacturing jobs in the United States; promote innovation through federal research and development policy; leverage federal purchasing power; create tax incentives for investments in manufacturing modernization and expansion; and strengthen manufacturing workers' skills. A full report on the crisis and my recommendations for solving it can be found at

Unfair foreign competition has been especially damaging to our state's manufacturing base. Several Asian trade competitors have intervened in international money markets for years to keep their national currencies artificially low relative to the dollar. China's currency, for example, is thought to be undervalued by 40 percent, meaning American manufacturers face a huge price disadvantage. The results are predictable. Devon Precision Industries of Wolcott recently announced plans to cut 90 jobs and open a new plant in China to stay competitive. MAC estimates that Connecticut lost more than $628 million in business just last year because, in large part, of unfair Chinese competition.

To combat this currency manipulation, President Bush dispatched his Treasury secretary to carp to our competitors - but has nothing to show for it. We must take stronger action. Fair-currency legislation I have introduced in the Senate would secure a date certain from the Chinese and other trade partners for delinking their currencies from the dollar and permitting them to float freely. If this fails, the bill would require the U.S. government to file an unfair trade case and seek damages.

What Connecticut workers don't need is protectionism. One out of every four manufacturing jobs in Connecticut is dependent on trade, and our state ranks fifth in the nation, per capita, in exports. Tearing down barriers to trade that other countries put up is the answer - not building new walls. Connecticut manufacturers have to keep innovating, but when they have a fair chance to compete, they win every time.

Samuel Colt revolutionized our state and national economy by leading the way in manufacturing with a drive to innovate, a commitment to compete and the will to lead. To save Connecticut's legacy of leadership in manufacturing, we should learn from that page of our proud history and do the same.

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