KINGSPORT — U.S. Senate Republicans could take a shot this fall at peeling back federal regulations and enacting tax reform as ways to boost the economy, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Thursday.
The Tennessee Republican mentioned the two strategies after a conference call with about 25 other GOP senators preparing to respond to President Barack Obama’s jobs plan next week.
"The major issue I’m hearing from folks is the tremendous amount of regulation they’re dealing with," Corker told reporters. "It’s the same thing, whether it’s in the financial industry, the health care industry or manufacturing. It seems to me the tremendous amount of regulation is really hampering job growth. ... Let’s figure out a way to repeal those that are creating problems. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) seems to be out of control now."
After those comments, Corker listened to concerns about work force development from Kingsport officials, manufacturers and higher education leaders, and toured the downtown Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM).
The group discussed the nation’s "skills crisis" of trying to fill manufacturing jobs formerly held by baby boomers with young workers.
"There are jobs out there if people have the right skill set," said Allen Borden, regional director of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
Northeast State Community College runs the RCAM, where prospective welders, chemical operators and other manufacturing technology students get training and then seek employment.
"We have 30 welding jobs we can’t fill. ... Kids don’t want to get their hands dirty anymore,"
Northeast State President Janice Gilliam observed.
Charlie Floyd, Domtar’s vice president and Kingsport mill manager, noted those welders can make $75,000 a year and more than $100,000 annually with overtime.
But finding people who want to go through the training is difficult, Floyd pointed out.
"When we tell them they have to have additional skills to get a manufacturing job, a lot of them go away. ... The more we do research, the more we see that is a common issue across our country," Floyd told Corker.
Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips recalled Greeneville logistics executive Scott Niswonger saying he had 50 trucks he couldn’t get drivers for.
"These unemployment benefits are outstanding, but someone is paying for them," Phillips said. "I believe in unemployment benefits to a point, but when you extend them without any commitment to look for a job, that’s a problem. ... You won’t go many places in Kingsport that’s not looking for employees."
Corker noted smaller service-oriented businesses are telling him their number one competitor for jobs is the federal government.
"If (the salary) is 10 percent less, and they have the hassle of driving to work and gasoline and all that, they are having trouble filling positions," Corker said of service-oriented businesses.
Corker also dismissed any notion that forthcoming federal spending cuts will hurt job creation.
"Unless we address the spending piece ... (cutting federal spending) will build confidence in the future, not take it away," Corker stressed.