The manufacturing industry suddenly has unfettered access to the White House under Trump, and it's making a killing

Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty ImagesJay Timmons, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers, and President Donald Trump.
  • The National Association of Manufacturers has received unfettered access to the White House and congressional leaders since Republicans gained control of the federal government.
  • NAM was crucial in selling last year’s GOP tax bill, and the association is now helping Republicans who voted for the legislation tout it as a success.
  • The Trump administration still faces an uphill battle in its goal of filling manufacturing jobs and bringing the industry back.

WASHINGTON – Manufacturing in the US is a priority for the Trump administration, and as a result, so are the industry’s leading advocates in Washington.

The National Association of Manufacturers is quickly becoming a behemoth in the US capital, receiving unfettered access to the White House and top lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

President Donald Trump recently delivered an address to NAM’s annual conference in Washington.

“For decades, the policy of Washington, DC, on the subject of manufacturing was a policy best summarized in one word: surrender,” Trump said. “They surrendered.”

He added: “Under my administration, the era of economic surrender is over, and the rebirth of American industry is beginning.”

NAM is playing for the winning team during the first two years of the Trump era. It helped sell last year’s GOP tax bill, and now that it’s law, the association is paying back vulnerable Republicans who made the gutsy call to vote for the legislation.

The association has increased its membership numbers significantly and announced new hires from the White House and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office in the past two years.

And it makes sense that more manufacturers would want to join in – NAM has received extraordinary access to the Trump White House compared with previous administrations.

A former White House official told Business Insider that when Trump or Vice President Mike Pence would hit the road to pitch the tax bill, their first step would be to approach NAM, which would then set up venues and events.

“We would say, ‘Hey, we’re looking for this kind of company in this state,’ and they’d say, ‘Here’s five – where do you want to go?'” the official said.

NAM is rewarding Republicans who supported the tax law

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and NAM President Jay TimmonsProvided by National Association for ManufacturersTimmons and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

NAM’s president, Jay Timmons, is using his sway with the nation’s top business leaders to ensure they make good on their promises to use the corporate tax relief from the new law to pump it back into the economy through expansion and investment.

NAM helped Republicans sell the tax bill at the end of last year. Now law, it’s a focus of many Republicans facing tough reelection bids, and some who took a risk in supporting the unpopular legislation are now getting their reward.

Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia voted in favour of the tax bill. As a result, NAM is seeking to bolster her status back home. The association put on an event with Comstock last month in a rural part of her district outside Washington, DC, featuring George Allen, the former Virginia governor and US senator, praising Comstock’s efforts in Congress. Timmons was Allen’s chief of staff for 11 years during his time in Congress and in Richmond.

Party hardliners don’t make a good fit for NAM’s mission

Timmons described Conor Lamb, the moderate Democrat who flipped a Republican-held district in Pennsylvania in a March special election, as “the future.”

“That type of candidate, that type of candidacy, that type of platform – and I don’t care if he’s a Republican or a Democrat, you better have a manufacturing platform, and you better have what I refer to as the four pillars,” Timmons said of candidates who might be looking for NAM’s support. “The first is free enterprise. The second is competitiveness. The third is individual liberty. And the fourth is equal opportunity.”

Few members of Congress embrace all four pillars, according to Timmons, who says he likes pro-business moderate Republicans such as Comstock and Sen. Rob Portman or Democrats like Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and Amy Klobuchar.

“I may not agree with them 100% on policy, but they believe in those four principles, and they hold those four principles very dear,” Timmons said.

NAM maintains a scorecard of the votes of each senator and representative on manufacturing issues. The scores lean favourably for Republicans over Democrats, with many holding 100% ratings.

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who often works with NAM, told Business Insider that in a hyperpartisan and politically volatile environment, there is a demand for those who will just stick to policy.

“There are a lot of people in this political moment that are searching to understand how the system is working or not working and what’s going on,” Bennet said. “And that probably has made them more relevant to people that they might have been before, and I think [Timmons] has really been behind that.”

Manufacturing in the US still faces an uphill battle

A recent survey by NAM found that 93.5% of manufacturers had a positive outlook on the economy.

And corporations have already begun to reap the rewards of the new tax law – a recent analysis found that 180 S&P 500 companies had saved $US13 billion as a result of it. Meanwhile, corporate earnings have grown significantly this year, with more growth expected.

But there are significant challenges for manufacturing in the US. Though the sector has rapidly added jobs, there are more than 324,000 unfilled ones nationwide, according to government estimates.

The industry also faces a significant skills gap, which Timmons attributes to a culture change across the country.

“Oftentimes it’s their parents who are saying, ‘You don’t want to go into manufacturing,'” Timmons said. “Because their parents have this vision of manufacturing being dirty, dark, and dangerous – and while that may have been true at one point, it’s not even remotely true today. Manufacturing today is very sleek, it’s very clean, it’s very technology-driven.”

Despite the challenges facing the industry, manufacturing has nudged its way in as a priority during a Republican-led era in Washington.

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