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Sen. Gillibrand talks manufacturing jobs during Alcoa visit


MASSENA - Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY) made creating manufacturing jobs in New York state the focus of her visit to the Alcoa East Plant early Friday afternoon.

Speaking before dozens of local government, business, academia and economic development officials, Mrs. Gillibrand promoted the Made in America Manufacturing Act, the first piece of legislation she introduced in the 113th Congress. The bill is a federal funding competition intended to foster public-private partnerships that would promote growth in local manufacturing, particularly high-technology manufacturing.

“I know New York’s manufacturing can push us through the 21st century,” Mrs. Gillibrand said. “I know we’ll see a rise in manufacturing and we’ll see it here in New York.”

According to Mrs. Gillibrand, the state has lost more than 123,000 manufacturing jobs since 2005. In the north country, an estimated 3,470 manufacturing jobs were lost from 2005 to 2010, including more than 1,120 from St. Lawrence County.

She said she sees the potential for regional manufacturing job growth, but many of those jobs require new training to qualify workers for the changing landscape of manufacturing. According to a 2011 survey by the Manufacturing Institute, more than 600,000 manufacturing jobs went unfilled due to a shortage of skilled workers.

The legislation would intend to help address the gap in skilled workers by partnering with the state’s community colleges, vocational education programs and job training providers to help them better meet the needs of U.S. manufacturers.

“What we have to do is make sure the next generation of products that are developed and made are made here in the north country so we can keep our manufacturers that are here growing and level the playing field for new manufacturers that we hope to grow,” Gillibrand said.

The legislation also proposes the establishment of a revolving loan fund, which would provide businesses and economic developers with low-interest loans. Mrs. Gillibrand hopes the capital would allow manufacturers to construct new high-technology facilities or upgrade existing facilities, equipment and infrastructure. She said the biggest impediment to job growth is a lack of available capital.

“I believe New York’s great manufacturing communities are well positioned to compete for funding that would help carry out their innovative ideas to spark more growth in high-tech manufacturing sectors, jumpstart new businesses and create good-paying jobs right here where we need them most,” she said.

Clarkson University Provost Charles E. “Chuck” Thorpe drew comparisons between aspects of Mrs. Gillibrand’s proposed legislation and Clarkson’s Shipley Center for Innovation’s revolving loan fund to help students start-up their own small businesses. He nicknamed the senator “(Clarkson University President) Tony (Collins)’s big sister,” and likened the legislation to Clarkson’s loan program “on steroids.”

Mr. Thorpe commended Mrs. Gillibrand’s efforts, saying action is needed to move the state into the modern, ever-changing world of manufacturing.

“The images we have in mind of manufacturing being a man doing back-breaking labor is gone. Today’s jobs are a lot more interested in technology and design,” he said.

Mr. Thorpe hopes that by bringing together government bodies and business leaders, as proposed in the bill, more can be done to ensure skilled American workers are filling these high-tech manufacturing jobs rather than having that work outsourced overseas. “Some of the solution is better training, and some of it is just saying, ‘Let’s work together on the same team’,” he said.

During her visit, Mrs. Gillibrand also stressed the importance of keeping Alcoa in the regio, and suggested that going into the future north country entrepreneurs invest more in wind power and dairy farming, seeing both as natural advantages to the region.

John Martin, U.S. primary products president for Alcoa and until recently the plant manager of the Massena Operations, praised Mrs. Gillibrand’s bill as a step to preserve and increase manufacturing jobs in New York state.

“Alcoa appreciates the work that (Mrs.) Gillibrand is doing to improve the competitiveness of U.S. manyfacturers,” Mr. Martin said. “We in the north country support her effort to revitalize New York’s manufacturing base.”

He noted Massena was home to the longest continuous operating aluminum smelter in the world and expressed optimism for its future, a line that drew applause as the deadline approaches for Alcoa for the company to make a decision on whether it will invest close to a billion dollars to upgrade the Alcoa East plant.

County legislators commended Mrs. Gillibrand for supporting job growth in the region.

“Ms. Gillibrand’s presence is proof that there’s a commitment to the north country, to maintaining jobs here and to our future,” said Legislator Jonathan Putney (D-Lisbon), chairman of the St. Lawrence County Legislature. “I think the senator is very proactive in trying to engage the communities in the north country.”

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