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America's manufacturers have an agenda for Washington

This is an opinion piece by Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, who will appear at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit on Nov. 13.

In a welcome change after a divisive campaign, both President Donald Trump and Speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi spent the morning after last week’s election talking up the opportunities for the White House and next Congress to make progress on some of the biggest, most complicated issues facing our country. While the kind words may not last, manufacturers want to see exactly this kind of approach to governing—and we have a post-partisan agenda that can bring together not only both parties but also the country.

Empowered by tax reform and regulatory certainty, our industry has seen significant progress over the past two years. Manufacturers are keeping our promises to hire new workers, invest in equipment and facilities and raise wages and benefits—all while working to make our environment cleaner and our workplaces even safer.

The optimism among manufacturers is at a record high. But that optimism and our industry’s continued success and competitiveness are not guaranteed. There are some urgent challenges that Congress, the administration and the manufacturing community need to tackle together. Thankfully, these are all in areas where there is real opportunity to build support across the political spectrum: expanding exports, rebuilding our infrastructure, fixing the broken immigration system, developing the modern workforce and protecting Americans’ retirement.

The most immediate way that Washington leaders can secure manufacturers’ competitiveness is to move forward on the U.S.–Mexico–Canada Agreement. This work must be completed this year—in the 115th Congress. President Trump secured a deal with Mexico and Canada, and Congress has a responsibility to consider it swiftly, assuming the text of the agreement includes the right ingredients for success. Manufacturing jobs are at stake, so there is urgency in moving expeditiously.

For years now, manufacturers have sounded the alarm on the state of our nation’s infrastructure, and each year as our roads and bridges erode, so does our competitive edge. Thankfully, both parties have been reading from the manufacturers’ playbook, specifically our “Building to Win” agenda for infrastructure investment. Minor disagreements will surely exist, but Leader Pelosi, Leader Mitch McConnell and President Trump should seize this opportunity to pass a bold infrastructure plan Americans so desperately need.

President Trump signed important bipartisan infrastructure legislation earlier this year—America’s Water Infrastructure Act and reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. Now it is time to build on those “down payments” and invest the more than $1 trillion we need to improve our roads, bridges, ports, waterways, railways, electrical grid, pipes, pipelines, broadband and more.

On the manufacturing agenda, immigration is the most likely issue to make emotions run high. But for the good of the country, Democrats and Republicans should look past the heated rhetoric and focus on fixing the broken system, which every day touches the lives of many who work in manufacturing or who aspire to contribute to the success of our country. An immigration reform package should modernize the immigration process, welcome Dreamers and provide a path for qualified legalization for the undocumented immigrants who already call America home. And given Americans’ clear concern about border security, it is altogether reasonable that such a package would also bolster the strength of our southern border protections, including construction of a wall and monitoring systems where needed. There’s no reason that leaders acting in good faith should not reach an agreement that includes those components.

Further complicating our ability to grow is the fact that manufacturers face a crisis every day in factories and shop floors: a severe lack of workers. Today, manufacturers have around half a million jobs to fill, and research from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute—the social impact arm of the National Association of Manufacturers—reveals that more than 2 million modern manufacturing jobs could go unfilled over the next decade if we do not rethink dramatically the way we attract, train and retain talented workers.

The bipartisan Perkins Career and Technical Education bill signed into law this year was an important step forward, and the White House has taken the initiative to shine the spotlight on growing our workforce. We look forward to helping the administration advance our shared goals like apprenticeship expansion, and manufacturers will continue doing our part to inspire the next generation to pursue these high-tech, high-paying jobs in our industry.

Finally, when these men and women leave the workforce, we also want to be sure they have a secure retirement. That is why manufacturers are right now asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to provide greater oversight on companies called proxy advisory firms—groups that advise the money managers who oversee Americans’ retirement accounts. Because they sometimes provide bad advice based on inaccurate information or tainted by politically motivated agendas, these firms are putting the investments on which American families rely at risk. It is a complicated issue, but common sense says it is one more area where we can come together for the good of our workers.

After all, that is what manufacturing voters want. Just before the midterms, the NAM commissioned a poll of self-identified manufacturing voters, and 71 percent said they prefer to see members of Congress compromise on their political positions to reach lasting solutions. We know that virtually all politicians like to tout their support for manufacturing and manufacturing workers. Now is their chance to prove that support: listen to manufacturing voters, reach compromises, achieve solutions and build a future worthy of the next generation.