Seeking a backdrop to show that the death of American manufacturing is greatly exaggerated, President Barack Obama couldn’t have picked a better place than Everett.
His visit today to the Boeing Co. factory here shines a spotlight on a company, a workforce and an industry on a roll. Their success has offered a welcome counterbalance to local job losses elsewhere in manufacturing — most recently from the closure of Kimberly-Clark’s Everett facility and several local lumber mills.
Boeing alone has added more than 8,000 jobs in our state in the past year, as orders continue to fly in. The near-term future truly is bright for the aerospace sector in Snohomish County. Work on the Air Force refueling tanker, a long backlog of 787 orders, and a growing contingent of Boeing suppliers and other aviation-related companies have confidence high.
Peace between Boeing and its Machinists union, which helped guarantee production of the next-generation 737-MAX in Puget Sound, provides a strong foundation for mutual prosperity. It’s also a clear recognition by Boeing, after suffering from too many weak links in the 787’s global supply chain, that the company’s success is dependent on a highly skilled workforce here at home.
The challenge to maintaining this positive American storyline isn’t complicated. It lies in good old American innovation, and a robust pipeline of skilled workers.
Both are endangered, however, by our long-term neglect of education at all levels. If that doesn’t change, America’s prospects in manufacturing will be dim indeed.
A rebirth of American manufacturing requires some basic commitments to education, from preschool through college:
•Ensuring that every child, regardless of family income, enters kindergarten ready to succeed.
•That no child starts the school day on an empty stomach.
•That school children in all grades are held to high standards, and have great teachers to guide them.
•That every high school graduate is ready for college, because a high school diploma alone isn’t a ticket to success in a competitive global economy.
•That higher education, whether at a community or technical college or at a university, is affordable.
On that last point, we think the president’s recent proposal to penalize universities that increase tuition too rapidly is misguided. The root cause of skyrocketing tuition lies primarily in the steady erosion of state support for higher education. Universities’ hands have been forced, because compromising the quality of a college education too much is self-defeating.
The president has been right, though, to push hard for higher standards, both for students and educators.
And his 2013 budget proposal includes increases in need-based college Pell Grants, as well as an interesting initiative to promote partnerships between community colleges and businesses. Those are exactly the kinds of partnerships that, with ample financial support, yield the kind of training that results in good-paying manufacturing and technical jobs.
A commitment to such innovative strategies, and to ample financial support for education at all levels, is critical to a prosperous future for America’s aerospace sector, and manufacturing in general.