On Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-11), who officially filed for re-election on Monday, visited McDowell Technical Community College for a tour of the Universal Advanced Manufacturing Center and to attend a meeting by the Workforce Pipeline Committee in one of four public events throughout Buncombe, McDowell and Haywood counties.
The Pipeline Committee, organized by Jerry Broome, is a collaborative effort among local businesses to educate the public at large, from students to adults, about local opportunities in manufacturing.
“I represent 16 different counties, and if all of the counties would be this engaged in a workplace and employment area then we’d be in a much better place,” said Meadows at the start of the meeting.
McDowell County Superintendent Mark Garrett spoke to the congressman about the committee’s long-term goal in regards to employment.
“What I really wanted to highlight or showcase was not the school system in this aspect, but what you all are doing to help offer opportunities for not just our students but about internships and what’s really going on in the industry today in manufacturing,” said Garrett.
“Workforce has been an issue. Unemployment rates are down, so that’s good news,” said Broome, who referenced McDowell County’s four-percent unemployment rate as of December 2017.” But bad news is when they’re looking for good people, sometimes you’ve got to do different things to find them. We’re trying to find out where folks are who are not in the workforce.”
According to Broome, 23 percent of all 18- to 24- year olds in rural areas are not working nor are in school.
Speaking with Pipeline Committee members, Meadows discussed a number of local and federal economic issues, ranging from unemployment among the younger demographic to federal regulations.
Larry Papula, plant manager at Ethan Allen, inquired about steps following the passage of the Tax Jobs and Cuts Act, which lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.
“My question my CEO asked, indirectly to President Trump, is that we have this federal tax decrease, and what’s next?” asked Papula.
Meadows said results are coming.
“I believe there are two things that will directly impact everybody in the room in terms of manufacturing and advanced manufacturing. There has already been a start of rollback of some of the regulatory environment that either makes your life competitive or makes your life miserable, sometimes one or the other or both,” said Meadows. “We have to face the fact that we compete globally, even though your product may have a primary market in the United States… You’ll start to see a lot regulatory rollback.”
According to Meadows, congressional members have given President Trump at least 312 instances of major regulations that could be potentially rolled back in favor of more fiscally conservative efforts.
“On workforce development side of things, you’re going to see a federal component where we are going to invest very heavily in non-traditional ways that makes sure we have people who actually show up for work,” said Meadows. “It’s hard, but it requires us to work with educators in a way like never before.”
In regards to reaching out to the younger demographic and those with federal benefits for local manufacturing opportunities, Meadows said, “At the risk of being too political, we’ve got to put the value back in work again. I think what we did is the compassionate part of us, we went through some tough times and tried to be more comfortable. So, we’re working very close with this workplace development to make sure there’s not this financial cliff. If we pay people not to work, then ultimately they find the value in not working, and that’s where it’s going to take Democrats and Republicans and unaffiliateds to work on this issue.”
The congressman was also asked about the current opioid epidemic in the nation. Coats America’s Human Resource Director Bill Graham said, “We’re seeing prescription drug use more and more in the workplace.”
Meadows said leaders are working on the problem.
“There’s an additional $6 billion allocated in the last couple of weeks going toward that particular initiative,” he said. “There’s two areas that have to be addressed, one of which is prescription drugs, the bigger problem because the success of rehab is not a pretty picture once they’re there. When they get into the rehab side of things, it’s a long and costly process. The other side of that is to look at the prevention, so you’re gonna see a real aggressive side on that, in particular in regards to opioids and how we change the way that we look at that.”
By the end of the meeting, Meadows praised the group’s collective efforts.
“As we look at this, manufacturing means manufacturing,” said Meadows. “It is critically important, and we’ve got some workforce development folks here and around, to bring potential manufacturers across the area who see that you’re working across different disciplines and that you have this group, and that’s so important. This kind of thing will sell them quicker than anything else, the fact that they have a relationship with the school system. If we get it right, let’s let it be where they’re out there and they’re getting the work.”