Guest Column

Manufacturers could benefit from vehicle repair policy changes

April 17, 2015
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One should never underestimate what Michigan can produce.

It is the home to people who, while not born into wealth, can create, grow and give back. This is about manufacturing and two lawmakers — a former gravel truck driver and a sailor with 22 years in the Naval Reserve — working together to help Michigan’s economy.

For my part, before I left for the Marine Corps, I worked the night shift producing Fiero and Corvette parts in a facility in Walker — a 34-mile round trip from Ada. I can’t say my time at the plant was enjoyable. The piercing screech of high-speed drills, the booming clap of the machinery, woozy smells from the gunk we sprayed onto the components all caused my head to spin after the shift ended.

I didn’t help myself when, on a rare Saturday night, we were called in to up production. I (jokingly) told my colleagues I would be starting a union. “Who’s with me?” I yelled. No one laughed as the night manager stood close by noting every word. The next day I found myself sweating and quaking before the unsmiling plant manager who expressed colorful opinions about my idea.

Still, the pay was decent and our quality was outstanding. My colleagues were solid family folks and hardworking. We took tremendous pride in contributing to the Michigan economy.

For all its challenges, U.S. manufacturing alone represents the ninth largest economy in the world. Manufacturing supports nearly 18 million jobs in the United States, 12 million of which are directly manufacturing related. Michigan produced over $82 billion in manufactured goods last year — that’s 20 percent of our state’s economy.

Unfortunately, some policy proposals do not help U.S. manufacturing and, despite the upbeat reports about an uptick in manufacturing, we aren’t in the clear by any stretch. According to many experts, the recent increase is due to the general recovery from the recent 2008 recession. We need policies such as lowering the U.S. corporate tax rate (currently the highest in the world), and common sense, reasoned thinking that includes a worldview perspective when imposing labor and environmental regulations.

There are immediate actions Congress can take that are good policy and great for Michigan, as well.

A recent Government Accountability Office report indicates that of the nearly 600,000 vehicles among the 14 federal government agencies, nearly $1 billion was needed in parts for their repair and efficient operation.

Congressman Bill Huizenga, a gravel truck driver for his small business, and Sen. Gary Peters, a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Naval Reserve, recently introduced the Federal Vehicle Repair Cost Act of 2015 to address the problem GAO describes by requiring federal agencies and auto/truck fleet managers to encourage the use of remanufactured parts while maintaining quality and performance standards. It would save money for the American taxpayer.

If passed, Michigan manufacturing companies could be the biggest beneficiary of this bill, not to mention the federal treasury and the environment. It is also a pro-business policy that will lead to economic growth and draw more people to West Michigan.

We all know major metropolitan areas in the so-called northern “Rust Belt” have suffered a negative growth rate since 2000, with the Census Bureau reporting last month that some areas have suffered a stunning 3 to 4 percent decline in population. In contrast, the Grand Rapids metro area has crossed the 1 million population threshold since 2000, and the region continues to grow substantially. Yet we still have not surpassed the national average growth rate of 13 percent like so many metropolitan areas in states like Florida and Texas.

The Vehicle Repair Cost Act would move us in the right direction in asserting Michigan’s potential for greater economic growth and competitiveness on the national scene. It is that spirit of entrepreneurship, an able and enthusiastic workforce and creative solutions to society’s needs that has made West Michigan great.

We should applaud Huizenga and Peters for putting partisan philosophies aside for a common good. They don’t take simple-minded shots at the institution of Congress. Huizenga (still driving the truck) is a great example of thoughtful West Michigan lawmaking in the tradition of Ehlers, Henry, Upton and Ford. We need more unpretentious enterprise in our lawmakers with such political and industry perspective, as well as the mature temperament.

I fondly recall my days making parts for Fiero and Corvettes and wonder if those I made 32 years ago are still on the road. I would like to think my former line workers are doing well. They would benefit from the bill proposed by our innovative former sailor turned senator and Michigan truck driver turned congressman.

Grand Rapids native Steve Carey is president of Potomac Strategic Development Co. in Washington, D.C.

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