Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

"He can’t tell them to do this, he has to persuade them to do this."

In a few short hours, President Donald Trump will deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress. Between both the House and the Senate, that’s a lot of people in small space, but many members of Congress manage to squeeze a special guest into the gallery … often to make a point.

Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s guest tonight is Roddy Rice.

Before retiring a few years ago, Rice spent nearly 40 years working at Neenah Foundry in Neenah, Wisc., in the melt department, dealing every day with molten iron. Roughly half of his years there were on the graveyard shift. “I don’t understand mornings,” he laughs.

You’ve probably walked over some of the manhole covers he helped make there, but they make plenty of other stuff, too.

“They have a municipal and an industrial side,” explains Rice. “They had to diversify, and began making parts for trucks, Caterpillar, housings for motors. These are huge pieces of metal. They’ve modernized their machines to do these kinds of products, revamped one of their plants and spent a lot of money on some of those machines, and they probably don’t run at 100 percent.”

"I want some substance. I want to see if he’s going to push on the Republican leadership to follow through on things like Buy America."

Rice’s was a good union job (he was an elected official in his GMP local), employed by the kind of manufacturer that would stand to benefit should an infrastructure plan with strong Buy America requirements advance on Capitol Hill. Sen. Baldwin is a big proponent of such rules, which is why Rice will be attending tonight’s speech. His years spent in manufacturing kind of vouch for them.

“I remember management talking to us, years and years ago, about having to compete with imports from India,” he says. “Well, you’re not going to get the same product from overseas that you’d get from Neenah Foundry. We have been doing this for a long time.

“You’re going to get a cheaper product (if you import). The chemistry of it won’t be as good, because they don’t have all of the environmental restrictions over there that we have here.”

When he’s up in the gallery tonight, Rice says he’s hoping to hear specifics out of the president, which he says he didn’t hear on the campaign trail and hasn’t heard so far.

“I want some substance. I want to see if he’s going to push on the Republican leadership to follow through on things like Buy America,” says Rice.

“But I don’t know if he knows how to. Being the owner of a company, you just tell somebody to do this or that. But (President Trump) can’t tell them to do this, he has to persuade them to do this. He has to work with them and the Democrats or nothing’s gonna get done. And I really hope something gets done.”