During August, I had a chance to travel all across our great state on a jobs tour that took me over 3,000 miles through 22 counties. I stopped in our biggest cities and in our least populated rural counties.
Along the way I met with small business owners, health care professionals, coal miners, steel workers, manufacturers of everything from tires to paper, educators, farmers, defense industry workers, and others. As I listened to the men and women who make Ohio work, I heard a lot of similar concerns. I heard about how a sluggish economy has made it harder for people to get ahead.
Although Ohio is now doing better than the rest of the country, still the historically weak recovery has made it tough. The percentage of people in the workforce is the lowest it’s been since 1978. Unemployment lines are still longer than they should be and flat wages accompanied by increases in health care costs and energy bills have contributed to a “middle class squeeze” that is making it harder for working families to get by.
As I traveled the state, I heard about the need to give the economy a shot in the arm by smarter regulations, tax reform, lower health care costs, cracking down on unfair imports and increasing U.S. exports by knocking down foreign barriers. I agree.
Washington has let people down, mostly because of partisan gridlock. It’s time to break the gridlock and pursue commonsense reforms that will grow opportunities and create more, better-paying jobs here in Ohio and around the country. One of the ways we can do that is by finding new markets and new customers overseas so that we can export more things stamped, “Made in America.” This means more jobs for Ohio workers; my priority in the U.S. Senate.
One of the stops along the jobs tour last month was More Than Gourmet, an impressive small business and food – based manufacturing company in Akron. More Than Gourmet gets rave reviews for its stock and sauce products used by professional chefs, consumers and other food manufacturers around the world, including parts of Asia. Their growing Asian sales were a big part of their success until 2009, when imports of American-processed meat products were banned by Japan because of unfounded concerns about what’s called mad cow disease.
This had an immediate and negative impact on the company and its workforce in Akron. Companies like More Than Gourmet, that work hard to make great products and find export markets for these products, are able to create more and better jobs right here in Ohio. We want more companies to do that. When I learned about what was happening to this company and its workers, I went into action. I immediately contacted the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, and worked closely with them to fight to re-open the Japanese market. It wasn’t easy.
Japan has some of the strictest food safety regulations in the world. But by insisting on our rights, including that standards have to be science-based, we were able to get Japan to lift its ban on U.S.-processed beef products, arrange to get a Japanese inspection team to MTG’s Akron plant, and show that its products are safe and meet Japanese standards.
It took two years of intense effort. But by working it hard, an agreement to re-open the important Japanese market was achieved. This was a victory for the men and women who make a world-class product at More Than Gourmet who brought this case to me, but it was also a victory for other food manufacturers in Ohio and across America.
One important way to get our economy back on track and see rising wages is to open more markets for “Made in America” products. Because some of the best and most innovative products and ideas are coming from Ohio workers and Ohio companies, this is a great opportunity for us. A balanced approach of more exports — combined with tougher enforcement of our trade laws — is one way to ensure that all Ohioans can build a better future for themselves and their families.
Rob Portman is a U.S. Senator from Ohio.