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Scaling Up: State Lawmakers Form Caucuses to Support Manufacturing

Policy priorities include developing the workforce, easing regulatory burdens, encouraging innovation and educating other lawmakers on the value of manufacturing.

By Leo Garcia  |  June 27, 2023

From the automated flour mill to U.S. steel production, manufacturing is America’s economic engine. It drives technological innovation, creates jobs, promotes national security and is key to maintaining competitiveness in world markets. The industry generates 11% of U.S. GDP and employs nearly 13 million workers.

However, challenges such as supply chain disruptions and workforce shortages have threatened the health of this important sector. In addition to enacting manufacturing-friendly policies, some state legislators have assembled legislative caucuses to provide ongoing support for manufacturing.

Manufacturing Caucuses

At least six states have active bipartisan legislative caucuses specific to manufacturing, including:

A seventh group, the Illinois Small and Midsized Manufacturers’ Caucus, which would focus on policies affecting firms of 500 or fewer employees, is in the works.

Once active, the caucuses engage with stakeholders to identify challenges, promote manufacturing policies and serve as a voice for manufacturers in the legislative body. Priorities include developing the workforce, easing regulatory burdens, encouraging innovation and educating other lawmakers on the value of manufacturing.

Read more: Roundtable: How Legislative Caucuses Can Power the Manufacturing Sector.

Economic Driver

In an NCSL survey of legislators involved in manufacturing caucuses, one theme stood out: Across state lines, lawmakers view manufacturing as an economic driver.

“Manufacturing is the second-greatest job creator in the state and tangentially related to every field, including logistics and warehousing, something that is hugely important in my region,” says Pennsylvania Rep. Michael Schlossberg, chair of the House manufacturing caucus.

New Jersey Sen. Linda Greenstein, co-chair of her state’s manufacturing caucus, shares a similar view. “Manufacturing is a huge part of New Jersey’s economy—chemical, food and beverage, medical devices, pharmaceuticals and more.”

Likewise in Massachusetts, where “manufacturing accounts for about 11% of the state’s economy ... and nearly 8% of the total workforce,” says Rep. Jeffrey Roy, the caucus co-chair.

Federal Support for Manufacturing

The CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 invests $280 billion in the domestic production of semiconductors, ensure U.S. technological independence in an increasingly competitive global order. The CHIPS Act includes $24 billion in chip production tax credits and over $52 billion for semiconductor manufacturing, research and workforce development. Recipients of the funds must invest domestically and commit to positively impact communities, workers, and small businesses for equitable growth. California, New York and Texas are already capitalizing on funding incentives through CHIPS.

Of the many challenges facing manufacturers nationwide, difficulty in recruiting and retaining employees was commonly reported. “The challenges New Jersey manufacturers face are probably quite similar to those faced by industry across the nation: supply chain shortages and disruptions during COVID, and finding a qualified workforce that stays with the industry,” Greenstein says.

Schlossberg and Roy both point to “talent recruitment and retention” as a major hurdle. “During the next decade, baby boomer retirements and economic expansion will lead to nearly 3.5 million job openings in manufacturing,” Roy says. “Manufacturers in Massachusetts will struggle to find highly specialized scientists and design engineers.”

Caucuses are uniquely positioned to solve legislative issues related to manufacturing and have achieved positive results. Roy says the Massachusetts caucus has been able to “foster collaboration between manufacturers, community colleges, technical high schools and regional workforce boards to create regionally specific talent pipelines.” In New Jersey, Greenstein says the caucus has helped “pass legislation that expands career and technical education, develops apprenticeship programs and better connects community colleges with employers.” Schlossberg says that the Pennsylvania caucus “has participated in many tours and influenced budget line items” to support manufacturing.

Connecting Policymakers and Manufacturing Centers

Manufacturing caucuses also turn to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or MEP, for support. The partnership, which is recognized as the “only federal program with a national footprint in small manufacturing,” consists of a national network of 51 MEP centers located in every state and Puerto Rico. The network supports manufacturers by connecting stakeholders with governments and by targeting workforce development, supply chain resilience and cybersecurity, as well as technology and innovation. In fiscal year 2022, the MEP network helped generate over $18 billion in new and retained sales for U.S. manufacturers and retained or created one manufacturing job for every $1,353 of federal investment.

“They (MEP) manage the meet-and-greets and make policy recommendations. They’ve been a key component,” Schlossberg says. “We’d have almost no activity without them.” Roy says the Massachusetts caucus works very closely with the local MEP center, adding that “MassMEP is a key partner in the effort to meet the skills gap in Massachusetts.”

Several other states have caucuses that are not specific to manufacturing but work on issues that can impact the manufacturing sector. Michigan’s Legislative Automotive Caucus and North Carolina’s Economic Development and Foreign Trade Caucus are just two examples. West Virginia was the only state identified in NCSL’s survey as having a standing legislative committee focused on energy and manufacturing.

Leo Garcia is a policy associate in NCSL’s Fiscal Affairs Program.

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