June 4, 2011 in Business

TAA funding snagged in Congress as opponents question its value

By The Spokesman-Review
 
At a glance

More than 40 Washington and three Idaho firms have used Trade Adjustment Assistance program benefits over the past three years.

A federal trade-assistance program that helps companies impacted by offshore competition could shut down by the end of the year if Congress votes not to renew it.

That program is the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act, and dozens of regional firms have used it in recent years to help workers find new jobs or train employees to be more competitive.

As more Republicans took seats in the House and Senate after the 2010 elections, some are suggesting it’s time to shut down or eliminate the program, saying it is too costly. Renewing the TAA program at 2009 levels would cost about $7.2 billion over 10 years, said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, one of the chief critics of the program.

Washington’s senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, support renewal, saying that the program has helped thousands of workers go through retraining in finding new jobs or improving current job skills.

More than 40 Washington and three Idaho firms have used TAA program benefits over the past three years. One of those is Liberty Lake-based Accra-Fab, a sheet metal contract manufacturer.

Its sales have been hampered by competition from companies in Mexico and China. In 2010, Accra-Fab qualified for $75,000 in assistance from TAA, which was combined with matching money from the company, said Barry Stewart, Accra-Fab’s HR director.

The company has three years to spend the funds on innovation or training. None can be spent on capital projects, Stewart noted.

So far, nearly all of the firm’s nearly 200 workers have received training in lean manufacturing through TAA funds, Stewart said. Lean manufacturing focuses companies on using fewer resources and eliminating wasteful processes.

Accra-Fab has also spent money on manager training, he said.

Another regional firm receiving TAA assistance is Kellogg-based Silver Needle Inc., which makes safety and protective clothing for utility, mining and metal workers. Media manager Rene Gilbert said Silver Needle used the money for improving production by moving the company to lean manufacturing.

Stewart said the value of TAA training has been significant. Without it, sales would have dropped, he said. “With the TAA help, it has at least stabilized and allowed us to keep our sales level steady,” he said.


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