A few years ago, the factory and its 825 jobs might have gone to India, China or another low-wage country. This time, American workers won out. And that victory could be instructive as the candidates pledge to energize an economy struggling through its fourth straight year above 8 percent unemployment.
Ask Siemens executives why they placed their bet on Charlotte and they talk about public investments such as the state-funded rail spur that runs through their facility and the city’s international airport, which recently added a fourth runway using $132 million in federal funds.
They talk about the Export-Import Bank, an independent federal agency that in January approved a $638 million loan to finance the sale of turbines to Saudi Arabia, helping Siemens beat bids from companies in Germany, South Korea and Japan.
And they talk about the quality of the workforce in Charlotte, where local leaders are retooling the public education system to churn out the engineers and skilled technicians needed to operate one of the most efficient gas-turbine plants in the world.
“A lot of things that were offshored in the past were offshored because of lower-cost labor, but that’s no longer the most important factor,” said Eric Spiegel, president and chief executive of Siemens’s U.S. subsidiary. “The reasons you bring a plant like this to the United States are higher-skilled labor, access to the world’s best research and development, and good, sound infrastructure. All those things together make the U.S. a good place to invest.”
A visit to one factory cannot fully illuminate the complex matter of job creation, and one company’s choices cannot be extrapolated to every industry and region in the country. But the story of the Charlotte plant highlights the benefit of investing in essential services with long-term effects for a wide range of industries — rather than primarily cutting taxes, as Republicans propose, or showering benefits on certain industries, as the Obama administration has done with the clean-energy sector.
While the public debate tends to be cast as a choice between propping up favored industries and getting government off the backs of business, many growing companies say they value policies that create a broadly fertile environment for job growth. Their wish list is specific: Good highways and modern seaports. High-level academic research. And, especially, education programs tailored to turn out skilled workers.
“What we’re seeing globally is we have a real opportunity to bring a wide range of jobs back to this country — including manufacturing jobs — because you see an acceleration in labor costs in other markets,” said Dean Garfield, president and chief executive of the Information Technology Industry Council, which represents 50 of the world’s largest tech firms. “To the extent we get the right policy mix, we can do a lot to encourage locating as many jobs as possible here in the United States.”