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October 16, 2003

Atlanta Town Hall Meeting on Manufacturing Draws Large Crowd and Spokesmen for Members of Congress

October 16, 2003

Atlanta Town Hall Meeting on Manufacturing Draws Large Crowd and Spokesmen for Members of Congress

ATLANTA, Georgia, October 16, 2003 – “Six months ago, no one inside the Beltway was talking about currency manipulation and the decline in manufacturing,” said Bob Weidner, president of the Metals Service Center Institute (MSCI) in his opening remarks at the Mid-South Chapter’s Town Hall Meeting on Manufacturing. “Now, we’re seeing stories nearly every day about manufacturing and trade policy. It’s up to us to keep the pressure on and heighten awareness of the crisis our industry is experiencing.”

Joining Weidner, three speakers outlined the state of manufacturing in today’s economy. Bill Jones, president and chief executive officer of O’Neal Steel, Inc., of Birmingham, Alabama; Stephen E. Makarewicz, president of Ryerson-Tull – South, and Steve Almond, president, Phoenix Metals Company, both of Norcross, Georgia, spoke before a crowd of about 100 at the Atlanta meeting. Also in attendance were representatives of U.S. Representative Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), U.S. Representative Denise Majette (D-Ga.), and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin offices.

Jones defined the crisis in manufacturing, highlighting how currency manipulation and lack of trade policy enforcement have drastically reduced opportunities for manufacturers. “Over 2.7 million jobs have been lost over the last few years, impacting families, communities, and industries,” he said. “In the Southeast, furniture, machinery, appliance manufacturing and off-shore platform construction jobs have been lost.”

The catastrophic effects have hit hard metals service centers and the towns they support. Said Jones, “We’ve seen a cascading effect on businesses, which have closed, downsized, or merged to stay barely afloat. Workforces have been reduced and shifts eliminated. The residual impact on communities has been enormous – their tax base declines, schools and infrastructure suffer, people move away. It’s like an old Western movie, with tumbleweeds rolling down deserted streets.”

“Sales have shrunk 25% to 30% in the industry. The net return on sales has been less than 1% at times. We’re in a real crisis,” said Jones. “As a group, we can do something about currency issues. If we don’t do anything, the economy we have now – which is not great – will be as good as it gets.”

Makarewicz, of Ryerson-Tull, discussed currency manipulation specifically. His slide presentation included an excerpt from Article IV of the International Monetary Fund enabling law, that states, “Members shall avoid manipulation of exchange rates to gain an unfair competitive advantage.”  Asian countries – China,Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan – are in direct violation of this IMF law, he said.

“Dollars gained in trade are invested in U.S. currency and held in reserve. Then, foreign countries lower their currency value and undercut U.S. products,” said Makarewicz. “The Economist, a London magazine, has set up a ‘Big Mac Index’ to compare the cost of one product – a Big Mac in this case, which has a specific recipe and formula to maintain consistency the world over – in countries to gauge relative value of currency. Right now, the U.S. Big Mac costs $2.70, while in China, the same burger costs $1.20 in U.S. funds. This is what’s happening in manufacturing – the cost of Chinese products have a significant cost advantage due to an undervalued currency..”

“Why is this issue being ignored?” continued Makarewicz. “Manufacturing’s not considered a big factor in the economy, representing only 12% of the GDP. Several years ago, manufacturing represented up to 35% of the GDP, but continual undercutting from foreign markets has sent jobs and plants overseas.”

We should all be concerned, he continued, as the unenforced trade regulations have implications not just in manufacturing, but in knowledge businesses (software development, customer service, etc.). “We must insist on enforcement of our existing trade laws and get involved in forcing a change,” concluded Makarewicz.

“Can you hear me now,” began Almond of Phoenix Metals. “That’s what our motto should be (apologies to Verizon). Eighty per cent of the manufacturing jobs lost in the last few years have been lost from Georgia,Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi.

“The ripple effect of those lost jobs has meant a loss of technical and skilled labor, lost jobs for every manufacturer, lost research and development innovations, and lost tax revenues at local levels. We’ve got to stop the losses. Let’s make sure our politicians can hear us.”

Will Thomas of Congresswoman Majette’s office voiced concern about the situation. Bob Weidner asked if Congresswoman Majette had signed any of the three bills or resolutions on currency manipulation now under consideration in Washington. Thomas said their office was researching and looking into them, and information such as that provided tonight helps them.

Marisa Simpson, of Sen. Chambliss’ office, said the senator had recently sent letters to the president and cabinet supporting U.S. manufacturing jobs. “Manufacturing is critically important in the country, especiallyGeorgia,” Simpson quoted from the letter.

 

A question and answer session followed, and Weidner implored all attendees to visit the MSCI website for tools to use in contacting local elected officials. “Go to your representatives and senators and demand that our existing laws get enforced. That will help our situation.”

Founded in 1907, the Metals Service Center Institute has more than 350 members operating from about 1,200 locations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and elsewhere around the world. Together, MSCI members constitute the largest single group of metals purchasers in North America, amounting each year to more than 50 million tons of steel, aluminum and other metals, with about 300,000 manufacturers and fabricators as customers. Metals service centers distribute metals and provide first-stage fabrication services.

Contact:   Jon Kalkwarf, 773-867-1300 x105