LANCASTER — Vice President Mike Pence touted a strong U.S. economy and urged Congress to ratify a trade agreement the Trump Administration signed last year with Canada and Mexico during a stop Tuesday in Lancaster for the groundbreaking of a new car seat manufacturing facility.
And he also defended President Donald Trump’s latest tweets slamming the black Democrat who heads a House oversight committee probing the president.
“President Trump is someone who, you know, he calls it like he sees it,” Pence told reporters after his speech. “And to have a congressman berating the Department of Homeland Security, and denouncing our border patrol agents making accusations that I know are not based in fact, while at the same time people in his city are struggling in neighborhoods with abject poverty, is something that the president is going to call on and he will continue to do that.”
The former Indiana governor added: “President Trump believes is being able to say when things are not what they should be to call on local leadership, to call on state leadership to say you have to do better. And that’s what animated is comments.”
In response, David Pepper, Ohio Democratic chairman, tweeted: “Pence assures that racism will continue.”
On his way back to Rickenbacker Airport for the flight back to Washington, Pence stopped for a cup of coffee with a side of handshakes at the Canal Wigman, a diner in downtown Canal Winchester.
During his speech, Pence pushed the proposed replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement with a deal the Trump administration reached among the United States, Canada and Mexico to about 300 invited guests at the groundbreaking for Novi, Mich.-based Magna Seating’s new seat manufacturing facility at the Rock Mill industrial park in Lancaster.
Magna plans to locate 300 jobs in a 150,000-square-foot building that it will lease in the industrial park. The company expects to make a total investment of $60 million, which includes lease payments and about $14.5 million in equipment, said Scott Worden, a company spokesman.
“I don’t think I have to tell people here across the Midwest what we learned together since NAFTA was signed into law. The truth is NAFTA had an impact on our communities that in many cases can be described as hollowing out historic jobs,” Pence said.
Afterward, while noting the celebration of the groundbreaking, Pence acknowledged to reporters, “But we are really here to urge Ohio to pass USMCA.”
The White House has touted the USMCA as an agreement that would encourage more goods and materials be manufactured in the U.S., modernize intellectual property rules and give American farmers greater market access abroad.
Ohio’s top export to Canada and Mexico in 2017 was, by far, transportation equipment, totaling $7.9 billion, according to the U.S. Trade Representative. The second largest export was chemicals at $2.9 billion. Ohio exported about $25.4 billion to those countries in 2017.
The Republican National Committee said in a statement that the agreement would create 76,000 automotive manufacturing jobs and incentives production in the U.S.
Magna International CEO Don Walker said he is “concerned” about the effect that congressional inaction on the USMCA could have on manufacturing in the U.S. He touted the agreement’s Labor standards, environmental standards and protection of intellectual property, and said it will eliminate steel and aluminum tariffs
“As an automotive company we’re in favor of (USMCA) passing in order to bring more clarity and certainty to the market. Obviously the administration is also in favor of it passing. One of his campaign promises was to renegotiate NAFTA and come out with a new deal. So this is the new deal. We’re in favor of getting it done, getting it passed so it brings more certainty and clarity to the market,” Worden said.
“The way it is right now, investment slows down and less people and less dollars want to get in the game when they don’t necessarily know what the rules of the game are.”
Magna will build the “bones inside the seat” at its Lancaster facility when it opens in the first quarter of 2020, Worden said. It will reach full capacity in 2022.
The company, whose parent Magna International is based in Ontario, Canada, shuttered its Lordstown facility earlier this year when General Motors announced that it would no longer build the Chevrolet Cruze sedan in that northeast Ohio community.
Walker said the plant in Lancaster and the shuttered facility in Lordstown are “completely different” businesses. Magna’s Lordstown facility was dedicated solely to providing seats for the Cruze, Worden said, so it had to close the facility when GM decided to idle the plant and lay off 120 workers.
Seats built in Lancaster will be distributed to other Magna Seating manufacturing operations and other suppliers for finishing, Worden said. Those seat structures ultimately will end up in vehicles built by major auto manufacturers, he said. The first seats built in Lancaster will go into a new hybrid vehicle that is in development, Walker said, but he declined to identify the automaker.
Pence said the U.S. economy is booming under the Trump administration, with lower unemployment and more job creation, and the USMCA could help accelerate that. He pointed to the administration’s tax policy as a reason that Magna, a Canadian company, would want to manufacture goods in the U.S.
“(Trump has) been fighting every day to bring American manufacturing back,” Pence said. “Today’s groundbreaking is yet another sign that under President Donald Trump this economy is roaring, our nation is prospering and American manufacturing is back.”
In Ohio, job growth in 2019 ranks 37th among all states at 0.73%, or about 40,400 jobs, according to an analysis by the Seidman Institute at Arizona State University. Over the past 12 months, job creation in Ohio ranks 41st.
The trade agreement would require 70% of auto parts to be manufactured in the U.S., and Pence said 40% of all auto parts must be made by workers making “essentially the average hourly wage” of U.S. workers, eliminating incentives to move those jobs over the border.
“The USMCA modernizes trade across our continent. it’s going to encourage innovation and investment like we’re celebrating here today,” he said.
Pence encouraged those in attendance to call Democrats in Congress to ask them to ratify the agreement. The prospects of ratification could get harder next year, when Trump and Pence will be running for re-election.
“We’ve got an election year around the corner,” Pence said.”We need to send a message to congress that look President Trump has done his job. It’s time for Congress to do their job and pass the USMCA.”
He told reporters that he “can’t wait to get to that election” because “we see that (Democratic) Party going father and farther to the left than anything I’ve seen in my time.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, an Upper Arlington Republican who spoke at the event, said he supports the USMCA, decrying “socialists” who talk about minimum wage jobs.
“We’ve got to make sure that we give workers the skills they need. If they do, they’ll be earning the maximum wage not the minimum wage,” he said.
Jobs at the Magna facility will be a combination of skilled and unskilled labor, general manager Phil Holjak said after the event. He declined to provide a range of wages for those jobs, saying they will be “competitive.”