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American Manufacturing Means Big Business in Hampton Roads
American Manufacturing Means Big Business in Hampton Roads
Op-Ed by Bryan Stephens, President of Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce

To anyone with a military background, the mention of Hampton Roads instantly brings to mind our one-of-a-kind military and government presence.  All five branches of the military operate here and we are home to nine military installations employing approximately 78,000 active-duty and reserve personnel and over 40,000 civilians. 

Needless to say, to the citizens and businesses of Hampton Roads, national defense is a major priority.  As President and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and a retired army officer, I am focused on the viability of our defense infrastructure, and see this priority through the lens of our local economy and particularly our manufacturing base.

Like in many areas of the country, our manufacturing sector faces challenges. Today we have upwards of 280 manufacturing companies located in Hampton Roads, employing residents in more than 36,000 production occupations. These are good jobs; mechanical and industrial engineers account for nearly 3,000 of those jobs, each averaging an annual salary of approximately $85,000.  Needless to say, manufacturing is big business in Hampton Roads and a major driver of our economy.

But between November 2007 and November of last year, Hampton Roads lost roughly 3,000 manufacturing jobs. This same dangerous trend is reverberating across the country, as manufacturing companies struggle to compete overseas with countries who simply aren’t playing by the same rules. Take steel, for example – a critical resource in our national defense. Rather than adjusting supply to meet global market demand, China is overproducing steel and dumping it on U.S. soil, driving down the prices of domestic steel production at the expense of U.S. manufacturers.

Reversing manufacturing job loss by addressing currency manipulation by countries like China could reduce the U.S. trade deficit by as much as $500 billion within three years and increase U.S. GDP by upwards of 5 percent.  Moreover, it could add between 2.3 million and 5.8 million U.S. jobs – and roughly 40 percent of those jobs would be in manufacturing.  Policy change on the national level to safeguard U.S. manufacturing will trickle down to our region, resulting in an upswing of new jobs, business expansion and economic development that would benefit everyone who lives here.

Moreover, changes to our global trade policies will also directly affect our military right here in Hampton Roads who rely on steel-laden vessels to defend our national security.  Our aircraft carriers, strategic submarines and Virginia-class submarines are all built with steel – anywhere from 5,000 to 70,000 tons of it! If we don’t rescue manufacturing and specifically U.S. steelmakers from global sabotage, China and other potentially hostile foreign governments will be equipping our military, not American manufacturers.  That’s a dangerous proposition.

As policy makers gather to discuss national priorities in the weeks and months ahead, let’s band together to tell them we will no longer stand for global trade that hurts American workers and jeopardizes our national security. Hampton Roads and communities across the country have tremendous growth potential if we set the conditions that allow our manufacturing companies to thrive – let’s empower them through intelligent global trade policy that will benefit us all. 

Bryan K. Stephens
President & CEO
Bryan K. Stephens is President & CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber.
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