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State of the Union garners mixed reviews

Keywords: Tags  State of the Union, Barack Obama, Klaus Kleinfeld, Alcoa, American Iron and Steel Institute, Steel Manufacturers Association, Precision Metalforming Association, manufacturing climate

NEW YORK — U.S. manufacturers and metal market participants had mixed reactions to President Obama’s State of the Union address, with some industry leaders lauding the President’s emphasis on manufacturing and others concerned by the specter of carbon regulation and unanswered questions about trade.

The President focused on economic growth and job creation in the Feb. 12 address, praising the manufacturing sector for adding 500,000 jobs in the past three years.

"We are pleased that the President seems to recognize the contributions of manufacturers like our nation’s steel industry to a strong economy. And we were encouraged to hear him talk about the importance of growing manufacturing, enhancing our infrastructure and promoting fair trade," Thomas Gibson, President of the American Iron and Steel Institute, said in a statement. "However, he didn’t provide many specifics about how his administration is going to do those things. The speech was a mixed bag of admirable goals with uncertain outcomes and was missing some important details."

The Steel Manufacturers Association also responded positively to the President’s plans for manufacturing, which included launching new manufacturing hubs and revamping the nation’s aging infrastructure. "We fully support the objectives of a manufacturing resurgence," Adam Parr, the organization’s director of policy and communications, told AMM in an e-mail. "Domestic steelmakers are competitive and supportive of (the President’s) pro-growth objectives."

The Manufacturing Institute and the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) separately praised the President for emphasizing the importance of training American workers for skilled manufacturing jobs. A recent survey by the National Tooling and Machining Association and the PMA showed that 91 percent of manufacturing business reported severe or moderate problems recruiting qualified employees, the groups said.

"Today, manufacturing provides modern, sophisticated jobs that are critical to the U.S. economy," Klaus Kleinfeld, chief executive officer of Pittsburgh-based Alcoa Inc., said in a Manufacturing Institute statement. "The challenge we face is finding enough men and women with the advanced math, science and technology skills needed to fill these attractive jobs. Alcoa supports public-private partnerships to promote opportunities in advanced manufacturing and to prepare the next generation to succeed."

But while some groups hailed the President’s focus on manufacturing, his discussion of greenhouse gas regulations put some on high alert, with leaders wary concerned that the President’s proposed action to reduce emissions could muffle industry growth.

"We will urge legislators not to support the President’s obstructive carbon dioxide regulations," Parr said. "This is largely the responsibility of the Congress, not the executive branch, and is in direct conflict with the jobs that we need to responsibly create."

Metals Service Center Institute president Bob Weidner also expressed concern that the White House would bypass Congress and regulate greenhouse gases. “Lawmakers cannot restore (the American) dream while taxing and regulating job creators more,” he said in a statement. 

Others said the crucial issue of trade enforcement went conspicuously unmentioned.

"Completely absent from this year’s speech? Trade enforcement," President of the Alliance for American Manufacturing Scott Paul said in a statement. "Tomorrow, the President will appear at an auto parts manufacturer in North Carolina. This is an industry besieged by Chinese imports. We could do a lot more good for American jobs by lowering our trade deficit with China first."

In an economy rattled by partisan battles on Capitol Hill, however, the most salient issue to some was the absence of political consensus following the speech.

"The President’s State of the Union address and comments by Sen. (Marco) Rubio (R., Fla.) regrettably showed how entrenched both sides have become," Parr said. "There are dueling messages. This is problem No. 1."

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