Proposing to reduce, or entirely eliminate, funding for WIC, PBS, Meals on Wheels, and the Coast Guard would have been shocking under any other administration, but seem pretty much par for the course under Trump. What is surprising is that Trump’s budget would also axe the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), a program that’s been doing something he claims to want, strengthening the U.S. manufacturing sector and creating manufacturing jobs in the U.S.
MEP was created under Ronald Reagan as part of the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988. The bill in general, and the MEP in particular were a response to the U.S.’s new and widening trade deficit with other countries. It was hoped that, by providing manufacturers with new technology, they could compete again with manufacturers in Japan and other countries that were outpacing the U.S. in terms of making things like electronics, steel, and other goods. What was discovered when the program started was that, for a lot of manufacturers in the U.S., having access to cutting edge technology wasn’t actually what they needed to be competitive commercially. So MEP adapted to provide things like “expertise, needs assessment, and training related to shop floor improvements” to small and medium sized manufacturers and the program has continued to evolve over time.
This kind of nuanced, constantly evolving, individualized assistance is essential in keeping the U.S. manufacturing sector alive. In the past few decades, U.S. manufacturing jobs have disappeared for two reasons. Some manufacturing operations have moved overseas, because labor is cheaper and those countries can meet U.S. consumers’ demand for cheap products. Other manufacturing jobs have been lost to automation. But, while some big companies that makes cars or clothes or steel pipe have left the U.S., other types of manufacturers have appeared.
There are now hundreds of thousands of manufacturers in the U.S. that are small- or medium-sized. These businesses employ just a few hundred or a few thousand people each, but account for millions of manufacturing jobs overall, and they making all kinds of products. And these are some of the companies that benefit from the kind of individualized assistance that MEP and other government programs provide, which enables them to get established and grow. Currently MEP works with tens of thousands of U.S. manufacturers each year, helping to create billions in sales and create and retain tens of thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs.
Because MEP is a public private partnership, this investment in American manufacturing doesn’t even cost taxpayers much. The yearly operating budget of MEP is just $124 million, less than the cost of one F-35 fighter jet. Trump is planning to buy 90 F-35s in the next few years. The manufacture of all 90 jets is going to create less than 2,000 new manufacturing jobs at the factory in Texas, so it’s hard to see how Trump’s budget cutting the MEP is anything but a blow to U.S. manufacturing and a threat to U.S. manufacturing jobs. Trump has talked a lot about bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., but, as Joe Biden once said, “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.” Trump’s budget is telling us a lot about what he really values and what he doesn’t.
Alexis Chapman is a Political Consultant and Writer specializing in policy analysis, from international law to local ordinances. She’s lived in Australia, Ghana, Vermont, Hawaii, and Texas and has worked for small and large NGOs, state legislature, industry associations, and a variety of publications. She is a regular contributor to Political Storm and you can find her on Twitter @AlexisAPChapman.