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CEO of group that promotes the business class, says that NAFTA did not eliminate jobs in Michigan

December 21, 2017

Last Thursday, the Right Place Inc hosted its annual economic forecast event in downtown Grand Rapids.

The function of the Right Place Inc. is to promote the business class in West Michigan and recruit new companies to operate in the area. Their board of directors is made up of people who are part of the West MI power structure, like John Kennedy (AutoCam Corp), David Van Andel (Van Andel Institute), Mike VanGessel (Rockford Construction), Hank Meijer (Meijer Inc.) and Blake Krueger (Wolverine Worldwide). 

During the Right Place Inc event last week, their CEO Birgit Klohs made the following comment about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA):

“It was not a job killer for Michigan. In fact, in West Michigan alone, almost 50,000 jobs depend on exports and many of those are going to Canada.”

According to an article posted on MLive last Friday, Klohs also had this to say about NAFTA and the potential negotiations of that trade agreement that was adopted by the governments of Canada, Mexico and the US in 1994. 

“The changes we’re looking at are very detrimental to our automobile, furniture and agricultural industries,” said Klohs. Any efforts to place tariffs on foreign made goods will either raise prices in the United States or result in a trade war that will harm the flow of trade, she said.

Acting as a stenographer, the MLive writer never bothered to question the claims made by The Right Place Inc CEO, nor did the writer verify the claims made about NAFTA not being a job killer for Michigan. The reporter didn’t even bother to seek out a contrasting source, which are not hard to find.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Michigan lost 182,288 manufacturing jobs (or 22.8 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2016). This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in Michigan declined from 24 percent to 16.4 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.

The non-partisan group Public Citizen has the number of Michigan jobs lost to NAFTA even higher. According to a recent document published by Public Citizen, Michigan has lost more than 231,000 manufacturing jobs – about one out of three – since the 1994 NAFTA and the World Trade Organization agreements took effect. Nearly five million manufacturing jobs have been lost nationwide. U.S. manufacturing workers who lose jobs to trade and find reemployment are typically forced to take pay cuts. Three of every five who were rehired in 2014 took home smaller paychecks, and one in three lost greater than 20 percent, according to Department of Labor data. More than 154,000 specific Michigan jobs have been certified under the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program as lost to offshoring or imports since NAFTA. These numbers significantly undercount trade-related job loss as TAA only covers a subset of jobs lost to trade. 

This information clearly is in contrast to the claims made by Birgit Klohs. Public Citizen, even provides a detailed look at what they refer to as the Trade Adjustment Assistance Database, where you can look at all the jobs lost due to NAFTA, based on company, the year and how many workers were laid off. There are pages and pages of job layoffs, when looking at the database. Here is a brief sampling from that database.

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