Opinion: USMCA would support Trenton manufacturing jobs
International trade is an important source of jobs right here in Michigan. Trenton is home to roughly 80 employees at the Eastman site who work hard to produce Butvar PVB resins that are used in coatings, ceramics and vehicle acoustics, shipped to consumers in North America. It’s the only Eastman plant to manufacture these specialty products, and it has been in operation for the last 62 years.
Opened in 1942, the Trenton facility made food and industrial grade phosphates. Nearly 15 years later, the facility evolved, adding the infrastructure necessary to manufacture resins. Today, the facility represents both a critical part of Eastman’s operations and Michigan’s economy. Just last year Trenton shipped more than $13 million of resin to Mexico and Canada, representing almost 40% of the site’s total exports globally.
These exports are made possible by free-trade agreements that provide access to these important markets. In turn, these exports support sales and manufacturing jobs here in the United States. A strong, modern trade agreement with our North American neighbors is critical to our continued success at the Trenton plant.
North America is operating under a trade agreement that was developed in 1992. A lot has changed since then. The technological advancements we have seen in Trenton were not even imaginable back in 1992, but advanced manufacturing is now a central component of our country’s commerce and trade.
Michigan workers and businesses need a trade agreement that reflects today’s economy and takes advantage of future economic opportunities. That’s why Democrats and Republicans in Congress should come together this year and pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a modern deal that will update the rules for trade in North America. Doing so will allow business operations like ours to continue to expand and remain competitive globally.
Eastman offers competitive compensation and benefits packages, as well as job training, to all its employees. These jobs drive a series of benefits felt throughout the community. Plant employees support students at Trenton High School, volunteering their time to share science and engineering career information during their annual STEM day. We also support the local Salvation Army Christmas Angel Program, the International Wildlife Refuge across from the plant and the local food bank.
Communities across the country can expect to see these kinds of benefits continue and expand with USMCA, which will preserve and strengthen free trade that supports jobs like those at our Trenton facility. Trade with Canada and Mexico is now worth $1.4 trillion, supporting more than 300,000 jobs in Michigan and more than 12 million jobs nationwide. In fact, 49 states count Canada or Mexico as one of their top three export markets for locally made goods and services. Data from the U.S. Commerce Department shows that these two countries purchase more than a third of U.S. merchandise exports.
With USMCA, manufacturing workers will benefit nationwide. The agreement will maintain mostly tariff-free access to markets, create best-in-class rules designed to foster U.S. growth in the digital economy, establish stronger intellectual property protections and provide new rules to help small businesses grow and reach new markets.
An updated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico provides a bipartisan opportunity to support Michigan jobs and American competitiveness. Congress should pass it before the year’s end.
Mark Costa is the board chairman and CEO of Eastman, and Gary Williams is the site manager at Eastman’s Trenton facility.