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Manufacturing commission created

MONTGOMERY - Alabama manufacturers got an official advocate this week when the state formed a new legislative committee aimed at stimulating economic growth and job base through initiatives to promote the competitiveness of Alabama manufacturers and to stop the severe loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs.

Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, Speaker of the House Seth Hammett, and Senate President Pro Tempore Lowell Barron recently announced the formation of the Commission on Manufacturing Economic Stimulus and Free and Fair Trade. Manufacture Alabama, the state's trade association exclusively representing the interests of manufacturers, worked with the legislature to create the commission, which will include a strong representation from manufacturing industries.

"It was done through a resolution that has to be passed by House, Senate and signed by the governor, to study the crisis we have in manufacturing in this state," said

George Clark, president of Manufacture Alabama. "We're ecstatic about it because it shows, I think for the first time, that we've got a lot of support from the legislature to look at the core problem"

A joint statement issued by Baxley, Hammett and Barron stated: "The legislature understands that a sound economy begins with a competitive, viable manufacturing sector. Alabama is losing manufacturing jobs at an alarming rate, and the commission will explore ways of retaining our state's vital manufacturing base.

"The commission will include a diverse and unique public-private membership structure. Officials from a wide range of Alabama manufacturing companies will be appointed and asked to lend their expertise and perspectives, working with the commission members appointed from the public sector.

"Together, we will work to identify and address the core reasons for the manufacturing crisis in our state, a crisis that has devastated hard working families and has contributed significantly to a drop in income and sales tax revenues."

Hammett was the chief sponsor for the bill creating the commission.

"We're just tickled to death that we have a legislator looking out for us," said Clark.

"Since 1995, Alabama has lost more than 75,000 manufacturing jobs," said Hammett, whose own district has been hard hit recently with the closing of Opp Mills and the slowdown at Micolas. "We in the legislature are determined to seek ways to avoid a further loss of these jobs, which pay some of the highest wages and best benefits in our economy. Alabama manufacturers have invested billions of dollars in modernization, worker training, environmental programs, and in the other elements necessary for global competitiveness. We want to assure that public policies and programs are not negating those efforts and needlessly adding to the crisis rather than helping to alleviate it."

Baxley cited unfair foreign trading practices as a key element of Alabama's manufacturing crisis.

"Alabama working families and Alabama communities are being increasingly hurt by questionable foreign trading policies from such countries as China, where there is little regard for paying workers a living wage, providing them with a safe workplace, or protecting the environment," she said. "While trade policies and solutions lie principally with the federal government, a number of states have begun to address the matter as well. It's a legitimate issue for the new manufacturing commission to consider in Alabama."