Staying at home is focus

Published 5:04 pm Wednesday, October 22, 2008

MURFREESBORO—Workers in the manufacturing sector have always been the hub of the United States.

But in the last decade those workers have seen their jobs disappear across oceans and international borders.

One U.S. (and Hertford County) based manufacturing employer has taken up the fight to stop those jobs from leaving home.

On Tuesday night, Nucor’s Town Hall Meeting rolled into the area to address the outsourcing of domestic manufacturing jobs and encourage Roanoke-Chowan leaders, and more importantly, citizens to join the fight.

“We hope to convince you of how important your voice is,” said Nucor Steel-Hertford County General Manager Bob McCracken.

There were plenty of ears to hear Nucor officials’ message as approximately 1,000 people packed the gymnasium in Chowan University’s Helms Center.

The Nucor Town Hall Meeting in Murfreesboro is the fourteenth of its kind. The steel manufacturing company, which prides itself in being the largest recycler in the country, reusing more than 22 million tons of scrap metal annually, has been holding similar events around the country and garnering attention nationally.

Nucor officials pointed the finger at a number of issues as the reason for the 4.2 million national manufacturing job losses in the last 10 years, 280,000 of those lost in North Carolina alone. The reasons highlighted by Nucor officials included the violation of free trade laws, currency manipulation, mercantile governments and irresponsible manufacturing practices by other countries.

John Ferriola, Nucor chief operating officer of steelmaking operations, referenced the U.S. trade deficit.

In 1996, the deficit stood at $56 billion dollars and last year that deficit was $800 billion, according to Ferriola.

He continued by saying that the deficit is on track to grow to

$825 billon this year.

Ferriola said the U.S. deficit with China alone is $256 billion, one-third of the total U.S deficit.

“That deficit is unacceptable,” he said. “Are you willing to except a $256 billon deficit with China?”

“No!” the crowd responded.

Nucor officials said the trade deficit is just one of the results of currency distortion by other countries who “artificially” devalue their own currency and fix it to the U.S. dollar, which is illegal under World Trade Organization policies.

In 1994, China devalued its own currency by 33 percent, using the devaluate practice and enabling their exports to remain cheap in American markets while exports from American businesses to China remain expensive, hence, the trade deficit and the loss of American jobs.

Each of the Nucor speakers said they invite free trade and competition from international companies, but want an equal playing field.

Ferriola also spoke about unsafe manufacturing practices by China that, he said, have brought poisons into the country which has had dangerous and sometimes deadly results.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

Nucor Executive Vice President Joe Stratman said many say not to worry about the loss of manufacturing jobs because American jobs will shift to the service sector.

Stratman said this transition to the service sector will mean Americans will make less money.

“A service sector job doesn’t replace a manufacturing job,” Stratman said. “Americans cannot accept this transition. We will lose the ability to make jobs.”

He said once jobs go overseas, most will never return because the infrastructure and supply chain, among other aspects, have already been established.

“I know together we can change American policies and create a level playing field,” he said.

Nucor Director of Government Affairs Pat McFadden urged the crowd to take action.

“It only takes six to 10 letters to grab the attention of an elected official,” he said.

McFadden said at Nucor he has learned a lot about team work, how it is good to be humble and how at the end of the day you get what you give.

Perhaps the most enthusiastic speaker was the last.

Author Tom Mullikin took to the red carpet that stretched down the middle of the gymnasium to speak ardently.

“Free trade has been hijacked, friends…it’s a free for all,” he said. “We’ve got to make people aware of what is going on.”

Mullikin noted there have been no recent laws created in regards to “leveling the playing field” and securing American manufacturing jobs.

“There’s a cancer in Washington, a cancer of self interest and greed, but the remedy is on its way,” he said.

Mullikin encouraged the crowd to communicate the issue to government leaders and to “stand in their way” in order to get legislation to protect manufacturing jobs.

“We lose because of the policies we fail to enforce,” he said. “You’ve got to engage, you’ve got to know these issues…we can’t change this unless we engage.”