YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Despite sentiment in Congress that the federal government can no longer afford to support the public/private partnerships forged in the recent past, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-17 Ohio, says the United States can’t afford not to.
“Our county can’t be pulling back at a time when China, India and Europe are investing in the next best product,” Ryan said after touring Fireline Inc. “We have got to make these investments.”
Fireline, a company that has grown considerably over the last decade and is diversifying its research and development arm to produce other materials, is among a host of companies in the Mahoning Valley that have benefited from federal support and a relationship with Youngstown State University.
Ryan was on hand Monday to tour the company on Andrews Avenue whose work he says makes huge contributions to the military and transportation industries as it creates new, high-paying jobs.
“We can’t give up on this,” Ryan said. “We have 100 people here who make a good wage. They’ve partnered with YSU. They’ve partnered with the Army Research Lab. And as competitive as the globe is right now, now is not the time to be pulling back on this stuff.”
Ryan’s visit comes as Congress is divided over what course of action to take regarding the massive national debt and as President Obama prepares to present a major jobs program after Labor Day.
Mark Peters, general manager at Fireline TCON, a subsidiary of Fireline that has developed a new ceramic/metallic composite that could have military applications, said that government earmarks, along with support from YSU’s administration and faculty, have enabled the company to accelerate its research and development capabilities.
“Fireline has invested quite a lot of money in moving this technology forward,” Peters said. Earmarks have helped the company defray the costs of purchasing equipment, and a partnership with the university has allowed Fireline to tap into the expertise of YSU faculty.
“The testing, the guidance we get from YSU helps us expedite this,” Peters said. “Otherwise, it would take a lot longer for us to achieve the same goals.”
Fireline Chairman Roger Jones said his is the only company that manufactures this specific product, and the technology can be adapted to serve other markets.
Fireline’s core business is manufacturing ceramic containers that other companies use to melt metal for the aerospace and transportation markets.
Jones said his company’s reputation and dedication to quality is such that it recently won business from a customer in Japan that had used products manufactured in China. “We didn’t have to cut price,” he smiled. “I just love the idea of beating China.”
Developing this kind of advanced manufacturing is precisely the goal of public/private partnerships, Ryan added. “It takes investments from the federal government, the state government and partnering with private dollars,” he said. “China can’t compete with this.”
All this must be a part of a national manufacturing strategy that Ryan hopes will be a focal point of president Obama’s speech next month.
Ryan also said that the president should present another stimulus package that would put Americans back to work again.
“My hope is that he’ll put a $400 billion to $500 billion jobs program together, primarily with investments in infrastructure, retooling energy systems in the country,” the congressman said. “We have a 20% unemployment rate in the building trades. This stimulus would drive down the unemployment rate and get money back into the economy.”
Ryan conceded that the stimulus money would have to be borrowed at a rate of about 1%, but could be repaid through tax increases on the wealthy — those making more than $1 million a year. “If we don’t jumpstart ourselves out of this, we’re going to have the same issues Japan did during the 1990s. It’ll be a lost decade.”
Ryan acknowledged he’s not optimistic about Congress passing another stimulus bill, given the impasse with Republicans and the Tea Party representatives in Congress.
“We have an ideological bunch in the Tea Party that won’t allow for any more government spending at all,” he said. “I hope that the president would take the Tea Party on in this issue.”
Ryan said the rest of the world is looking to the United States for bold economic leadership. “The move is heavy investments now, in the short-term,” he said. “We’ve got to do this, or we’re going to have a decade’s worth of high unemployment and low wages and lack of investment. We’re in a critical moment in our country’s history.”