Dole Addresses North Carolina Chamber's Manufacturing Council Summit

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Address North Carolina Chamber's Manufacturing Council Summit  (2007) 
by Elizabeth Dole
Delivered on 29 May 2007.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for that wonderful warm welcome. And thank you to my good hometown friend Dyke Messenger for those kind words of introduction. As many of you know, Dyke has done incredible work in his family’s Salisbury-based company, Power Curbers, and as a board member for NAM. It is a pleasure to see you Dyke, and to be among so many other dear friends today. I also want to thank the folks of the North Carolina Chamber for your commitment to excellence in working to make our state the best place in the country to do business. For those of you who haven’t yet met CEO Lew Ebert, he is doing a fantastic job, so do get to know him soon.

I also want to thank NAM for this honor. Thanks to my long time friend, John Engler, for doing such a magnificent job as the head of NAM and for all his years of service to the people of Michigan and our country.

I am so proud to work for our state’s manufacturers in the U.S. Senate. Manufacturing – which generates nearly 20 percent of North Carolina’s GDP – truly provides the foundation for our state’s economy.

As you may remember, when I ran for the Senate in 2002, I laid out a number of my priorities for North Carolina in The Dole Plan. Now as you can see, this is a pretty thick document…but I can summarize The Dole Plan in just three words – jobs, jobs, jobs. My Senate work is guided by this plan to foster a pro-business climate, in North Carolina and across the nation, that will create jobs and grow our economy – by reducing taxes and other regulatory burdens, by educating and training a highly-skilled workforce, by building and updating infrastructure, and by ensuring affordable, accessible energy and health care.

For the better part of the last century, our traditional industries of tobacco and textile and furniture manufacturing were the foundation of North Carolina’s prosperity. But in recent years, the forces of the global marketplace have triggered an economic transformation in our state. In the Senate, I strive to respect and uphold those traditions that have made our state great, while at the same time working towards a future that is more prosperous and more secure for every North Carolinian.

One of my top priorities is to ensure that international trade agreements are free and fair, so that our workers can remain competitive. If we open our markets to other countries, they must conduct business on a level playing field. I am very sympathetic to a number of concerns about some free trade policies and proposals, but I also believe that fair trade agreements can provide many benefits for both businesses and consumers. After all, America represents less than five percent of the world’s potential consumers – so opening up foreign markets can and should give our companies much greater export opportunities for their goods.

I have supported a number of trade agreements that have come before the Senate, but in reviewing each trade bill, my number one concern is how that trade agreement would affect North Carolina. When I see an agreement that is bad for our state’s industries, I will fight tooth and nail to fix it – often getting concessions from the White House – so that policy is fairer for our workers and our economy.

No question, the trade practices of China remain a very serious concern. Last year, U.S. trade deficit with China reached $232.5 billion – accounting for one-third of our total record deficit of $765.3 billion. For a number of years, I have pressed the Administration to address China’s unfair practices, especially its currency manipulation. Chinese currency is grossly undervalued…and I don’t have to tell you that this is hurting North Carolina manufacturing jobs. The measures taken by China in the last couple years to revalue the yuan can’t even be described as baby steps in addressing the problem of that country’s tight currency controls. And as we saw last week during the Administration’s talks with the Chinese delegation, China remains resistant to appreciating its currency value…and the patience of manufacturers and Congress has run out. China must take decisive action or face negative consequences.

In addition to fair trade policy, our businesses need a simple, fair and stable tax policy. Our future economic strength hinges on companies growing and creating new North Carolina opportunities and jobs, and there is no question that tax stability encourages companies to look ahead and make sound long-term business decisions.

Four years ago this month, the Senate passed tax relief that has allowed families and businesses to keep more of their hard-earned money. The result: a strong American economy that is growing an average 3.1 percent a quarter and the creation of more than 7.8 million jobs. And, since the 2003 tax relief was implemented, tax receipts have actually increased by nearly 35 percent, helping to significantly lower the federal deficit.

A tax system that encourages and rewards savings and investment is the cornerstone of sound economic policy. Unfortunately, many on the other side of the aisle in Congress just don't seem to get it – this month they passed a budget that includes more than $200 billion in tax increases over five years. Their budget anticipates the expiration of tax cuts, including the 15 percent rate on capital gains and dividends. And last year, much to my disappointment, they continued to block efforts to repeal the death tax, which is another example of a government policy that penalizes what we should be encouraging – that is thrift and savings. For the second year in a row, the national savings rate remains below zero. If a couple works hard, lives within their means, and saves to have a nest egg for retirement and assets to pass on to their children, it should not be the policy of our government to take up to 45 percent upon their death. Clearly, this is an unfair and counterproductive taxation, and the death tax should be eliminated once and for all.

In addition to bringing a little common-sense to our tax system, government must also be sensible when it comes to regulating businesses. We should be constantly evaluating the regulations imposed on business. According to the Small Business Administration, the annual regulatory compliance cost for manufacturers is $10,175 per employee – nearly double the average for all other sectors. That’s absurd. Regulations should not be excessively burdensome or costly, redundant or unnecessary…this stifles growth and job creation. But the reality is that numerous regulations have costs that outweigh their benefits – for instance, section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate accountability law. While businesses need to have internal control procedures for financial reporting, having outside auditors certify these controls has proven to be excessively expensive. In fact, many businesses have informed me that this requirement costs more than 10 percent of their profits! I was pleased that the SEC released new guidance last week to ease the costs of compliance with section 404, but we still must do more to address this and other regulatory problems, so that our businesses can thrive and compete.

As businesses in North Carolina become more and more globally competitive, our workforce must also be up to the challenge. Many of the lower skilled jobs are moving offshore and the new jobs that are being created require highly skilled workers. In fact, the Labor Department estimates that 80 percent of new jobs created over the next decade will require post-secondary education.

To this end, I believe our community colleges are a valuable asset. North Carolina’s network of 58 community colleges is one of the best in the nation. I know there are representatives from our system here, and let me tell you that if your ears have been burning, it’s because of all the bragging that I’ve been doing about you. You have truly been a beacon of hope during this economic transition – providing retraining and remedial education to those who have lost their jobs, and developing curriculum to suit the evolving needs of employers. When Pillowtex announced its layoffs a few years back, the first stop I made when I drove into Cabarrus County was at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College to discuss how to prepare workers for new employment. I say heartfelt thanks to our community colleges that are out there on the front lines, doing incredible work for our state.

And as we rely on them more and more to produce North Carolina’s skilled workers, they must have the resources to meet the growing demand. In the Senate, I have introduced legislation to assist and strengthen our community colleges. My bill will help them better prepare students for the jobs of the 21st century. Let me tell you how:

· It will provide funding specifically to help community colleges develop curricula to train students for locally available jobs in high-demand fields;

· It will help small business owners and operators receive the short-term skills training they need to compete in today’s global economy; and

· It will make it easier for students to transfer credits earned from other institutions, eliminating the hassle and cost of needlessly repeating coursework.

This year Congress will reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which is so important for North Carolina’s esteemed colleges and universities, and I am very optimistic that my legislation will be included as part of that bill.

Let me also mention that as a former Secretary of Labor, I am a long-time supporter of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. TAA was created in 1962 to help workers displaced by trade – and as we know all too well in North Carolina, this program continues to provide a real service to those who have lost jobs due to foreign competition. TAA helps pay for retraining, job search and relocation expenses, and income assistance for up to two years. This important program is set to expire in September 2007, and recently the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee introduced a TAA reauthorization bill. Rest assured that I will be working with members of the Finance Committee to keep Trade Adjustment Assistance intact for North Carolinians who need it.

In addition to an educated workforce, we’ve got to have a healthy workforce. But ever-rising health care costs are putting real financial strains on individual consumers and businesses that provide employee coverage. It is essential that we address the availability and affordability of health care. We must empower families to make health care decisions based on their specific needs and allow them greater choice over how their health care dollars are spent. And, we must work to improve transparency and efficiency to better meet consumers’ needs.

No question, out of control, frivolous medical liability lawsuits are driving up costs. Our nation faces an escalating crisis that threatens the very future of our world-renowned health care system. North Carolina is one of 17 states the American Medical Association has declared a state in crisis – meaning that each day more North Carolinians are losing access to critical care. Sky-rocketing medical liability insurance premiums are forcing physicians to abandon their practices, and the cost of defensive medicine, or the tests and treatments doctors perform to avoid lawsuits, is estimated between $70 billion and $126 billion a year. During my years in the Senate, repeated attempts to reform this broken system, by imposing a reasonable cap on non-economic damages, have been blocked. With Democrats now in the majority, progress on this – and other much-needed tort reform that impacts businesses – will be more difficult, but that’s no reason to give up the fight.

I also support health insurance reform that allows small business to join together to form Small Business Health Plans. Roughly 45 million Americans are uninsured, and approximately 60 percent reside in a family employed by a small business. Small business health insurance reform would allow these employees to obtain the same economies of scale, bargaining clout, and administrative efficiencies now available to employees in large corporations and union health plans.

Additionally, we need to implement the broad use of health information technology. We are behind in this area. Health IT can reduce health care costs up to 20 percent per year – by saving time and reducing duplication and waste. For example, electronic medical records can help reduce errors, improve quality, and allow health providers to use critical information about patient care more effectively.

Another important tool for increasing coverage is expanding the use of Health Savings Accounts. HSAs provide Americans with greater control over their individual health care decisions, and strengthening these accounts will allow more people to save tax-free dollars to pay for their health care expenses.

Energy costs and accessibility also are a significant concern for businesses and consumers. In North Carolina, we have some of the finest energy companies in the world. They are on the cutting edge, and I have learned a great deal from working closely with them over the last few years.

As energy prices go up, so do the costs for businesses. Two years ago, with my support, Congress passed the first comprehensive energy plan in over a decade, which has expanded energy development and conservation. Last year, I supported and Congress passed the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act that will increase domestic production of oil in the Gulf Coast. But there’s much more to be done. I’ve long been an advocate for greater exploration in places like ANWR in a remote part Alaska – we’re talking about less than half of one percent of ANWR that would be affected by oil production activity – 2,000 acres out of 19 million. Lessening our dependence on foreign energy sources is not only an economic necessity, but a matter of national security, and I will continue to work in the United States Senate toward that goal.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are richly blessed to live in North Carolina. It is the greatest state in the nation – for making a life, for raising a family, and for building a business. The future of our economic prosperity relies heavily on our manufacturers’ ability to compete in the global marketplace – and I am confident that you are up to the challenge. And be assured, you have a friend and ally in Elizabeth Dole.

It is a great joy to work with you and a pleasure to be here. Thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you today. God bless the great state of North Carolina and this land of the free…America.