While Utah may not be widely known as a manufacturing state, that industry is actually one of the backbones of our state’s economy. The manufacturing sector generates 13 percent of our annual gross domestic product at $14.5 billion. In a United States Chamber of Commerce study of the most enterprising states in the nation, Utah ranks in the top five of every export category and was the only state to rank in the top 10 in every category.
Despite these bright statistics for our business industry, manufacturers nationwide are struggling due to a shrinking workforce, and Utah is not immune to this problem. Though the manufacturing sector pays the second highest average wage statewide, our workforce numbers are dwindling as older generations retire and younger generations increasingly seek jobs requiring advanced degrees.
To address the workforce shortages, we need to ensure that our companies have the workforce they need in order to stay in business. The most common-sense way to achieve that goal is through immigration reform that focuses on the needs of our economy and supports American businesses. That is why I am joining the Partnership for a New American Economy and business owners around the country in the #iBuildImmigration campaign, a month-long push to let Congress know that immigration reform is critical to the success of our nation’s manufacturing and business industries.
Immigrant workers are already making meaningful contributions to the manufacturing industry. When immigrant workers fill the gaps left by Americans, jobs are created and we are able to keep businesses in the U.S. rather than seeing them move overseas. According to research conducted by the Partnership for a New American Economy, 46 U.S. manufacturing jobs are created or preserved for every 1,000 immigrants who live in a county. Together, the more than 40 million immigrants in America have created or preserved 1.8 million manufacturing jobs nationally. That means immigrants are responsible for more than one in seven manufacturing jobs that exist in the United States today.
Currently, when employers wish to utilize foreign labor to fill their available jobs, they can apply for short-term visas to secure immigrant workers. But this process has proven to be expensive and riddled with restrictions and red tape, such that many employers cannot benefit from the program. By implementing practical immigration reforms that allow employers realistic options to fill and add jobs to their businesses, our state will see a profound economic benefit.
It is time for Congress to pass immigrant reform legislation with a broad scope that addresses security and job creation. Implementing a legal and accessible venue for employers to hire skilled foreign workers would improve national security by allowing border agents to focus on problem individuals and not people simply entering the country for work. Moreover, as our economy recovers, our businesses and entrepreneurs must have the opportunity to grow. It is clear that if approached correctly, immigration reform can have a profoundly positive impact on our economy by adding jobs and revenue and stabilizing our workforce. I am calling on Congress to jump-start our economy by passing immigration reform now.
Todd R. Bingham, is currently president of the Utah Manufacturers Association (UMA). Prior to UMA, he was the president of the Utah Mining Association and previously served as the vice president of public policy for the Utah Farm Bureau Federation.