Among the topics covered in last night’s State of the Union, President Obama outlined a plan to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. by cutting taxes for businesses that relocate to American soil. Meanwhile, companies that maintain operations overseas would get hit with a tax increase, with the money saved going toward expenses for companies that choose to return here.
Given how much damage outsourcing has brought to the economies of cities nationwide over the past few decades, the proposal should come as a flicker of optimism for urbanists.
But some cities across the country have already begun the process of restoring industrial jobs at the local level. In Philadelphia, plans are underway to redevelop the historic Navy Yard on the city’s south side and fill it with a combination of office, manufacturing and distribution space, not to mention housing and some retail. It would call for an upgrade and extension of the area’s mass transit — a subject conspicuously absent from the president’s national diagnosis, as NAC’s editor-in-chief already pointed out. All told, the Navy Yard project should bring an estimated 20,000 jobs and billions of dollars in investment to Philly.
Elsewhere, the Brookings Institution has a plan to partner local leaders, business owners and philanthropists to revitalize business in three industrial regions: Minneapolis/St. Paul, northeastern Ohio and the Puget Sound in Washington state. Acknowledging that manufacturing has played a central economic role in the history of all these places, the idea is to transition longtime business away from an auto-centered focus and into newer, growing markets. This means more attention on sustainable industries and high-tech products — the sorts of things that the nation as a whole would benefit from investing in.
To invoke the promising industrial might of postwar America, as the president did in his address, is enough to move anyone distraught at the country’s seeming lack of opportunity right now. But the steps toward retrieving the dream must always begin at the ground level, with cities investing in businesses that not only create jobs where none existed before, but impose practices sustainable enough to keep people working for years to come.
Though a helpful push from the federal level never hurts.