OUR OPINION: Barbour, Bayh join forces to aid US manufacturing

Former governors Haley Barbour, R-Mississippi, and Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, have put their names and reputations as economic development advocates behind a report released Monday by the University of Virginia on creating American manufacturing jobs, which the report casts as “an engine of well-paying, middle-class employment throughout US history.”

The bipartisan leadership of the commission producing the report suggests what almost everyone in leadership understands: Agreement on important issues for the common good isn’t a surrender of principle.

The UVA report is described as “innovative, nonpartisan, and actionable ideas on creating manufacturing jobs.”

The report, “Building a Nation of Makers” would help restore the United States’ preeminence as a manufacturer, with emphasis on accelerating the pace of innovation for America’s small and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises (SMEs.) Its focus is strikingly similar to the goals and strategies employed by Mississippi development leaders, including the Community Development Foundation in Tupelo/Lee County.

The report builds its momentum on six ideas:

• Talent investment loans to expand human capital, using government-backed loans to hire the workers necessary to expand businesses, as well as to up-skill new and current employees.

• Upside-down degrees to connect classroom learning with on-the-job learning, allowing “students to transfer accredited technical training, work experience, military training, or community college coursework as credit toward a bachelor’s degree.”

• A skills census to build a more efficient and skilled labor force, commissioned by state governments, with data freely available to the public, allowing decision makers to tailor programs in real-time.

• A “national supply chain initiative” to fully map America’s manufacturing ecosystems, so businesses and policymakers can cost-effectively fill gaps in infrastructure, and keep up with rapid changes driven by emerging technologies.

• Up-skilling high school students with expanded technology and engineering certification programs, precisely the idea behind advancing high school education in the PUL Alliance counties in Northeast Mississippi.

• A “big trends-small firms” initiative to diffuse the latest technologies to manufacturing SMEs. This initiative, implemented through the Commerce Department’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership, would connect small and medium-sized manufacturers with the latest innovations.

Barbour and Bayh, in a statement from UVA, said the main goal is producing quality employees for our workforce so SMEs can grow, prosper and provide more jobs, higher pay, better benefits in a more competitive American economy: “That is the social benefit, first and foremost.”

The greater challenge may be in kicking aside partisanship to seize prosperity.