An invitation from Washington, D.C.-based United States Business and Industry Council, a non-profit business advocacy organization, brought Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) to a small manufacturing company in Akron, Ohio, on Oct. 10.
With a slight limp sustained from a benefit football game in Washington, D.C., Ryan walked the factory floor with S. Lee Combs, founder and president of S.C. Manufacturing Inc., a privately held industrial machinery company that employs 120 workers in three separate buildings.
Congressman Ryan was there to see firsthand how small manufacturers are faring in a global economy. What he learned was that S.C. Manufacturing is thriving due to its diversified customer base, which includes AK Steel Corp. and The Timken Co.
"Diversification is key," notes Combs. "We don't have one big customer -- we have 85 customers who all share our attention. No one customer represents more than 25% of our work."
Backing up Combs' claims of success is the 2007Ohio Manufacturers Directory, an industrial directory published annually by Manufacturers' News Inc., Evanston, Ill.
According to the 2007 Directory, industrial machinery and equipment remains Ohio's top industry, accounting for 21% of the state's manufacturers.
While he says that China wasn't a major factor, he does note that it was a negotiating threat. If companies didn't like the bid that S.C. Manufacturing presented they would throw out the China card and say they could get cheaper parts overseas.
For Congressman Ryanthe China story is all too familiar. Ryan, along with Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), introduced the Chinese Currency Act of 2005 (HR 1498)in the House of Representatives. The bill already has 178 co-sponsors, including 86 Republicans.
The bill aims to hold China accountable for currency manipulation. According to industry analysts, the Chinese government undervalues its currency by 40% or more, an advantage to Chinese exporters at the expense of U.S. industry, agriculture and workers.
For Combs, a level playing field would help manufacturers, especially small manufacturers, rebuild and thrive. A task that is already taking place at S.C. Manufacturing with the rehire of the 65 employees and plans to add to its 55 CNC machines.
"The Chinese Government helps out its manufacturers -- our government doesn't," says Combs.
Specific help that Combs wants is educating workers to become stellar machine operators.
"We have trouble finding qualified workers," Combs says. "They have to have the right training and a good math background. To make a machinist it takes four years -- just like college."
Combs told Congressman Ryan about a machinist institute that he has been affiliated with for more than 25 years. The institute's goal is train workers in machining skills. The benefit: 99% job placement within the local economy.
To do his part, Congressman Ryan promises to follow up with Combs about the institute's future.
"From my perspective, we have to figure out ways to help manufacturers," says Ryan. "We also have focus on how companies export and get government to help them do it easier. We need to share with others the good work that folks like Lee [Combs] are doing."