by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
When President-elect Trump returns Saturday to Mobile, Ala., famously the site of his first campaign mega-rally, he has a chance not just to revel in an extremely friendly reception but also to learn some lessons from a thriving community. Chief among those lessons is that a more nuanced approach to his “get tough” outlook on trade would better accomplish his own, admirable aims of protecting American workers.
Alabama’s own Senator Jeff Sessions of course has been right to question the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris climate agreement, and other multi-lateral trade and diplomatic accords, citing their bureaucratic entanglements and threats to national sovereignty. On the other hand, the experience of coastal Alabama shows that trade and cross-national industrial investment works both ways. U.S. workers benefit tremendously from the ability of corporations to let market pressures determine where best to build, operate, and manufacture. If a president goes too far in dissuading American companies from foreign investments, he risks a backlash from foreign businesses that otherwise would be willing to move production to the United States.
Consider the renaissance that in 2015 made Mobile the top-rated “midsized city” for manufacturing growth, according to Forbes.com. Almost all of it was driven by foreign-owned corporations. With 4,200 employees, Austal Shipyards is the area’s largest manufacturer. Its corporate home is Australia. At Brookley Field, where Trump’s private jet landed for his 2015 rally, VT Mobile Aerospace Engineering, whose parent company is Singapore Technologies Engineering, employs 1,500 in Alabama and hundreds more in the Florida panhandle. Also at Brookley, Airbus planes are now rolling off the assembly line as the European corporation quickly ramps up to employing 1,000 full-time workers in the area.