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Sen. Gillibrand talks manufacturing jobs during Alcoa visit


MASSENA — U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand made the creation of manufacturing jobs in New York the focus of her visit Friday to the Alcoa East Plant.

Speaking before dozens of local government, business and economic leaders, Mrs. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., promoted the Made in America Manufacturing Act, the first piece of legislation she introduced in the 113th Congress. The bill would create competition for federal funding among public-private partnerships to promote growth in manufacturing, particularly in high technology.

“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.”

The state has lost more than 123,000 manufacturing jobs since 2005, she said. The north country alone lost an estimated 3,470 manufacturing jobs from 2005 to 2010, including 1,120 in St. Lawrence County.

Mrs. Gillibrand said that she sees the potential for manufacturing growth in Northern New York, but that workers will have to be trained for the changing landscape of the industry. According to a 2011 survey by the Manufacturing Institute, more than 600,000 manufacturing jobs went unfilled because of a shortage of skilled workers.

The legislation is designed to address that shortage by providing funding for job training and vocational education programs that come from partnerships among businesses, colleges and local workforce centers.

“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,” Mrs. Gillibrand said.

The legislation also proposes the establishment of a revolving loan fund that would provide businesses with low-interest loans. Mrs. Gillibrand said she hopes the capital would allow manufacturers to construct new high-technology facilities or upgrade 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, jump-start new businesses and create good-paying jobs right here where we need them most,” she said.

Clarkson University Provost Charles E. Thorpe drew comparisons between aspects of Mrs. Gillibrand’s bill and Clarkson’s Shipley Center for Innovation, which has a revolving loan fund to help students start their own small businesses. He nicknamed the senator Clarkson President Anthony G. 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 backbreaking labor is gone,” he said. “Today’s jobs are a lot more interested in technology and design.”

Mr. Thorpe said he hopes that by bringing together government bodies and business leaders, as the bill intends, more can be done to ensure skilled American workers are filling these high-tech manufacturing jobs, rather than letting them go 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 here, and suggested that north country entrepreneurs invest more in wind power and dairy farming, seeing both as natural advantages to the region.

John Martin, president of global primary products for Alcoa, praised Mrs. Gillibrand’s bill as a step toward preserving and increasing manufacturing jobs in the state.

“Alcoa appreciates the work that Senator Gillibrand is doing to improve the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers,” he said. “We in the north country support her effort to revitalize New York’s manufacturing base.”

County legislators also commended Mrs. Gillibrand for supporting local job growth.

“Mrs. 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 S. Putney, D-Lisbon. “I think the senator is very pro-active in trying to engage the communities in the north country.”

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