"Are manufacturing jobs Cory Gardner's path to the Senate?" Why a column from 2014 resonates today

By Bart Taylor | Sep 22, 2020


In a March 2014 column, I encouraged Cory Gardner to run on manufacturing to win a Colorado Senate seat. Six years ago, a Republican hadn't won a statewide election for governor or U.S. Senate since 2002, and from my vantage point, the GOP was fishing about for a compelling electoral strategy:

"Gardner's yet to articulate a platform but early pronouncements from the gubernatorial field provide strong clues. They suggest the GOP ticket will run on the repeal of Obamacare, Dem overreach on gun legislation, opposition to same-sex marriage and economic sluggishness -- a slow recovery.

Will this platform appeal to young voters, women and minorities and social moderates in Colorado who increasingly decide elections? It's principled. It's also similar to what's been defeated here before. And Gardner's 'Battle for the Future of America' theme runs headlong against a few economic realities.

Contrary to the gloomy tone of the GOP's economic assertions, growth and vitality are on display here. Energy is feeding an industrial comeback. Entrepreneurship is thriving. . . . On balance the Colorado economy is a formidable engine and compelling story, a national model in some respects. As Brian Burney, CEO of Oliver Manufacturing . . . told me, 'It's a good time to be a manufacturer.'"

So much has changed. And yet is hasn't.

For one, it's still a good time to be a manufacturer, and still a good idea to run on manufacturing.

David Hansen, senior economist at Development Research Partners, notes that "manufacturing seems to be one of the best performing industry supersectors so far [in 2020] in Colorado. Based on seasonally adjusted CES data, employment in Colorado's manufacturing sector is down 1.3 percent YTD compared with 4 percent across all industries. Encouragingly, manufacturing employment was actually up slightly over the year in July. Our forecast for 2020 was 1 percent growth. The [CU Boulder Business Research Division's] current forecast for manufacturing in 2020 is a -0.5 percent employment contraction."

Yet still, both Gardner and his adversary, John Hickenlooper, don't run on Colorado manufacturing, though they both could, each from a different point of view. Hickenlooper was a manufacturer, and Gardner's been a quiet if effective advocate of Colorado's sector.

Frankly, I'm not sure what either candidate is running on today. Perhaps each should revisit findings I referenced in the same 2014 column:

"Last week, Manufacturing & Technology News summarized research that, according to the publication, concludes, 'There is a wide disconnect between the American public and policymakers in Washington, D.C., on the importance of manufacturing to the U.S. economy and the need for action to restore American industrial competitiveness.' Or more succinctly, 'Americans want Washington to deal with manufacturing, but Washington is not responding.'

M&T News reported on some of the findings:

When asked, 'which of the following industries is the most important to the strength of the American economy?' 32 percent of Americans said 'manufacturing," followed by 19 percent saying "high tech and knowledge industries,' 12 percent saying health care, 11 percent saying agriculture, 8 percent saying housing and construction, 6 percent saying finance, and 4 percent saying services and retail.

Voters reject the idea that other sectors like high tech or services can replace manufacturing. Only 34 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that 'the strength of the American economy is innovation and competition -- and if manufacturing leaves, we will move into new areas like high tech or services which will take its place in the future.'

With 88 percent of Americans agreeing with the statement that 'American manufacturing means American jobs,' the survey found that 'support for American manufacturing and manufacturers is nearly universal.'

Most Americans (84 percent) support the adoption of a national manufacturing strategy that is focused on tax, education, and trade policies (with 7 percent opposed to such a policy)."

As I noted in 2014, "Manufacturing may provide an opening for any candidate willing to make it a campaign issue."

It's never too late.

Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach him at btaylor@companyweek.com.