HOUSTON - U.S. Rep. Mark Critz and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland toured the Bucyrus America plant Tuesday, getting a firsthand glimpse of how the country's largest manufacturer of mining equipment "makes it in America."
Hoyer stressed that Democrats are pursuing a farsighted agenda that rebuilds Americans' confidence in domestic manufacturers' ability to successfully compete in the global marketplace.
He said the House's "Make it in America" slogan is intended to send two messages.
"We want to reinstate confidence in Americans that they can make it here and succeed, and that one of the ways we're going to do it is to make it here," he said, referring to the manufacturing side of the expression.
During a half-hour tour of the plant on West Pike Street, the congressmen saw three different types of underground mining equipment being manufactured for both the U.S. and international markets, including continuous mining machines being readied for South Africa and India, as well as longwall systems being built for Alpha Natural Resources' Greene County mining operations.
The local plant received more encouraging news in late July, when it learned that it will be responsible for producing a new, high-tech longwall plow system that Bucyrus is selling to U.S. and international coal mining companies.
Jim Johnston, director of operations at Houston, explained during the tour that the plant, which is responsible for making all of Bucyrus' underground equipment lines, stays on top of the competition by cross-training workers for different tasks and by performing constant quality checks as equipment moves through production.
Headquartered in South Milwaukee, Wis., Bucyrus leads the country in above-ground mining equipment. It acquired the Houston plant three years ago when it purchased DBT, a German manufacturer that based its North American headquarters in Houston.
Hoyer and Critz, D- Johnstown, stressed that the "Make it in America" slogan isn't just rhetoric. They pointed out that Congress recently passed the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act, which lets the U.S. seek trade sanctions against China and other nations for manipulating their currency to gain trade advantages.
Hoyer also said the House is proposing that the U.S. take a long-term view of its manufacturing industries, suggesting that it review the sector every four years to determine if it is staying competitive in foreign markets. He said Congress also must examine trade agreements the U.S. has with other countries "to make sure these are fair trade agreements."
The manufacturing sector is critical because it tends to pay higher wages for skilled positions such as welders and machinists. It also has the ability to quickly create jobs when the economy is functioning normally, and exports of top-dollar products like machinery help to balance the country's massive trade deficit.
For now, Hoyer said, the impetus is to get the economy turned around so that more jobs can be created to whittle down the current U.S. jobless rate of 9.6 percent. He acknowledged, however, that righting the economy after a deep recession "is like turning around an aircraft carrier, not a jet ski."
"We're growing jobs, but not fast enough," he said. "We've grown private sector jobs, but not fast enough."
The biggest challenge, he said, is restoring a winning attitude among Americans.
"If people think they're going to win, then the likelihood is we will," he said.