Sen. Bob Casey visits Bethlehem chemical manufacturing plant, urges need to renew assistance funding

By Andrew George, Express-Times

Over the last five years, Bethlehem chemical manufacturing company Puritan Products has tripled its sales and created 15 new jobs.

According to company President Lou DiRenzo, much of that success is owed to a federal grant for $75,000 awarded to the company as part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., visited the Bethlehem facility Monday to meet with workers and discuss the impact Trade Adjustment Assistance has had on the company.

Casey, who is chairman of the Senate Joint Economic Committee, urged the need to renew federal funding for the TAA after touring the facility, citing the success Puritan Products has had with the program.

 

"It's a remarkable story over here at Puritan Products because you're not only seeing all of the job growth results over the last couple years ... (but) adding jobs and innovating and adapting to new environments in a very complicated part of our economy," said Casey.

 

According to the U.S. Economic Development Administration, TAA aims to provide technical and financial assistance to manufacturers or producers who have lost employment, production or sales due to increased imports and foreign competition. It also provides aid to workers who have lost their jobs due to foreign trade agreements.

Some Senate Republicans have expressed reluctance about renewing TAA, which cost about $2 billion last year, according to a Bloomberg report. They say the program benefits only a  small segment of the unemployed and want it dismantled, according to the report.

The press secretary for U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., did not return a phone message this evening.    

Casey said the benefits of the program are extensive. 

"In a very tough economy, businesses need help," said Casey. "They need help with the results of unfair foreign competition. We have to compete every day of the week with countries that frankly cheat and make it much more difficult for us to have a level-playing field for folks that are trying to manufacture a product in this difficult environment."

 

Casey is urging Congress to renew federal funding for the TAA through 2016 at the stimulus rate adopted back in 2009, which includes coverage to service firms and workers. This enhanced version has recently expired and funding has receded back to pre-stimulus amounts.

According to Casey's press secretary, while there is no official estimate yet for just how much an extension would cost, Casey has pledged to find an offset for the cost so that it will not increase the deficit.

In a recent letter to President Barack Obama, Casey asked the president to consider delaying the consideration of upcoming free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia in order to focus on the American manufacturing industry.

Casey has recently been visiting manufacturing plants across Pennsylvania attempting to rally support to renew funding in the upcoming federal budget for both the TAA and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

The MEP is a nationwide network, which works with small to mid-sized manufacturers to help create and sustain jobs, increase profits and provide innovation strategies. 

According to the MEP, for every dollar of federally invested money into the partnership, $32 of new sales growth is generated. They also claim that for every $1,570 of federal investment, the MEP is able to create or retain one manufacturing job.

Alongside Casey and DiRenzo was Jack Pfunder of the Bethlehem-based Manufacturers Resource Center.

Pfunder said that with the technical and financial assistance provided by TAA, the manufacturing industry is able to innovate and better prepare itself for a successful future.

"People ask me, 'What is the future of manufacturing in the United States?'" Pfunder said. "To me it's pretty simple, manufacturing is the future of the United States and it rests with the researchers of innovation like what we're seeing here today at Puritan Products."

Puritan Products senior vice president Thomas Starner believes it's "absolutely" important for a manufacturing company of Puritan Products' size to receive government funding in this economic climate.

"We don't have the funds internally to do some of these things so getting some government support certainly helps our cause," Starner said.




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