Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related economic crisis, American manufacturing has been slowly but surely falling behind. While there was a positive outlook for the sector in 2017 and 2018, with over 450 thousand jobs added in those two years, manufacturing job growth slowed in 2019, and in April 2020, fell to the lowest level since 2010—wiping out ten years of steady gains. The 2019 slowdown was national in scope, and has hit especially hard in the Midwest states, providing evidence that big-ticket policy issues like tariffs and taxes can’t alone generate a manufacturing recovery. And now, as we face a much deeper crisis, it is essential to look at effective and innovative policy ideas that, if scaled and expanded, could make a world of difference for the millions of Americans who rely on the sector for their livelihoods, while introducing many more to their ranks.

TCF has been tracking these policies for a few years now, and our research, fleshed out last year into a nine-section report, “9 Steps to Revitalize America’s Manufacturing Communities,”1 argues that state policies are often overlooked when it comes to retaining and growing a twenty-first century manufacturing base. For this report, we have surveyed and cataloged a host of examples of these model policies as practiced across the seven Great Lakes states—Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Wisconsin. These states make up just 25.5 percent of the total U.S. workforce, but still more than 30 percent of the U.S. manufacturing workforce; it should be no surprise, then, that from these strong industry clusters, there is much to learn.2 Included in these findings are policies and practices designed to drive equity, justice, and revitalization for communities that rely on the sector, which is crucial not only for justice’s sake, but also for sustaining growth in the sector.

In order to learn from these state-level actions, we surveyed dozens of local practitioners and policymakers in these seven states3 across the heartland, throughout the summer and fall of 2019.4 This report—a compilation of results from the survey and other research—compares the nine policies we highlight in our report against state practices, and presents examples from seven of those nine action areas. While it does not provide a comprehensive list of each state’s policies, it does illuminate the ways in which several states are already embarking on best practices.

Layoff Aversion

Many shutdowns and mass layoffs can be averted with sufficient early warning, especially when coupled with a well-organized and expedient business turnaround or buyout effort. States and local workforce development boards should establish layoff aversion programs in good times as well as in hard times because small business owners, managers, and workers need dependable business and jobs retention policies, initiatives, and capacities, not intermittent government actions.

New York has a couple of strong practices in this area. The New York State WARN Act5 strengthens provisions of the federal WARN Act by requiring employers with fifty or more employees to provide a ninety-day notice in the event of widespread layoffs (twenty-five or more employees, or 33 percent of a company’s employees for smaller employers). The policy also offers financial assistance for turnaround services through New York State SharedWork,6 which provides partial unemployment insurance benefits so that employees can continue to receive full pay with reduced hours.

Pennsylvania also provides robust layoff aversion programs. The state implements an early-identification system,7 going beyond federal WARN requirements, that draws on a number of intelligence-gathering tools such as WARN notices, regional economic reports, and community contacts in order to proactively identify companies at-risk of closure or significant layoffs and provide early intervention services.

Pennsylvania also offers technical assistance (e.g. rapid response team) through the Strategic Early Warning Network (SEWN). SEWN provides turnaround services,8 which include restructuring finances, streamlining operations, transitional ownership, identifying new markets, and improving workplace performance. SEWN also offers early identification services, shared work funds,9 and funds for external consultants. Pennsylvania sends out rapid response units when the Department of Industry and Labor becomes aware of significant layoffs,10 either through a filed WARN or via a notice by community contacts. The network offers rapid response services, including funding provided by the Department of Community and Economic Development to better integrate IT skills training into regional rapid response teams.11 The training is focused on employers who identified IT labor shortages as a factor in not achieving full capacity.

Buy America

Every day, states spend hard-earned taxpayer dollars on infrastructure. Spending that money on Made-in-America products keeps our money in our own economy, and in the process supports good paying manufacturing jobs and companies that pay local taxes. States should make sure they have strong Buy America rules for infrastructure and then explore preferences for other procured goods.

Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New York, all have state-level buy America policies.

Ohio’s Buy Ohio and Buy America12 for “manufactured goods” is relatively simple: it prioritizes procurement bids from producers located in Ohio or a border state.

Indiana’sProcurement Requirement—Foundry Products13 applies to steel or foundry products in contracts for the construction, reconstruction, alteration, repair, improvement or maintenance of public works. Indiana’s local efforts include the “Made in Indiana Program—Purdue MEP,”14 which highlights the contributions Indiana manufacturing makes to the state’s economy and raises awareness of the products made in Indiana.This program features a spotlight page on MEP’s website and social media platforms.

Pennsylvania’s Steel Products Procurement Act15 applies to every contract for the construction, reconstruction, alteration, repair, improvement or maintenance of public works. It mandates that the use of U.S.-made “steel products” be used or supplied in the performance of the contract or any subcontract. “Steel products” means products rolled, formed, shaped, drawn, extruded, forged, cast, fabricated, or otherwise similarly processed, or processed by a combination of two or more of such operations, from steel made in the United States by open hearth, basic oxygen, electric furnace, Bessemer, or other steel making process and includes cast iron products. The requirement is waived if a product is not available domestically or the product is not produced in sufficient quantities to meet the requirements of a contract

The New York Buy American Act,16 meanwhile, requires the use of domestic iron and domestically melted and poured steel for all construction reconstruction, alteration, repair, maintenance, or improvement of any surface road and bridge projects over $1 million. The use of domestic iron and domestically melted and poured steel is also now required for all contracts over $1 million awarded by the Dormitory Authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Bridge Authority, and the Thruway Authority.

Sector Partnerships

In a dynamic, global, knowledge-based economy, manufacturers and workers need a stronger sectoral skills development infrastructure. Too often, when U.S. manufacturers can’t find the workers they want, they choose lower-wage, lower-skill paths to profitability. In response, regions and states have invested in sector partnerships. These partnerships bring together multiple employers with overlapping skill needs, in some cases jointly with their unions. Sectoral partnerships develop training programs that meet multiple employer needs and provide work-based learning exposure.

Both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have taken notable steps to foster sectoral partnerships.

Pennsylvania’s Next Generation Sector Partnerships Pennsylvania17 identifies employers and educational partners, fosters data-sharing efforts between departments and sector partnerships, and assesses employer training/workforce needs.

In terms of state funding, Next Generation Sector Partnerships Pennsylvania uses set-aside funds to financially support the program. It also requires that local workforce and development boards devote funds to support sector partnerships. Next Generation Sector Partnerships Pennsylvania also designates a portion of its federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funds to financially support the program.

Wisconsin’s Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) provides funding to regional economic development organizations (EDOs) to do cluster analyses and provides funding to high schools to create labs tied to their local manufacturing communities.18 Another funding and technical assistance effort in the state is the Madison Region Economic Partnership’s (MadREP) Regional Industry Cluster and Sector Strategy Development, which provides research, analysis, and other services toward its mission of “job creation and business growth in target clusters.”19

Industrial Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships offer a proven approach to training skilled workers and customizing classroom education (“related instruction,” as it is called in apprenticeship curricula), as well as providing work-based learning on the soft and technical skills required on the job. Apprenticeships deliver benefits for employers, workers, and the community at large. For every dollar invested in apprenticeships, Mathematica estimates a return of $35 in benefits over the career of an apprentice.20

New York covers three key aspects of this policy area. It provides state funds for apprenticeships through the New York Apprenticeship Expansion Grant (AEG), which provides employers with up to $10,000 per apprentice (maximum cap of $300,000 per employer) to cover costs associated with training apprentices.21 It provides tax incentives for apprenticeships through the Empire State Apprenticeship Tax Credit,22 which is extended to apprenticeship sponsors who have registered through the New York State apprenticeship program. Sponsors receive $2,000 for each apprentice in their first year, and $3,000 for second-year apprentices.

Wisconsin provides grants and support for manufacturing-specific apprenticeships through its WAGE$ Grant, a federal grant received by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, and contracted with local workforce development boards. It works to launch new and advance existing apprenticeships in three high-growth fields, including manufacturing; and to strengthen pipelines and address training gaps, especially for youth, young adults, and underrepresented populations (women, minorities, and the disabled).

While cut for 2020, our survey results did include mention of an excellent program in Michigan that provided grants for apprenticeships called Going Pro in Michigan, an apprenticeship grant program that awarded funds to employers for training, developing, and retaining current and newly-hired employees.23 Employers could be reimbursed up to $1,500 per employee for on-the-job-training or classroom training, and $3,000 for each registered apprentice, upon completion. The program is very much worth refunding, and of application in other settings. Michigan does continue to provide tax incentives for apprenticeships through its School-To-Registered Apprenticeship (STRA) program for companies that hire students part-time and provide structured on-the-job training.24 Employers who participate in the program qualify for a tax credit of up to $2,000 annually for every registered apprentice trained.

Women and Minorities in Manufacturing

Despite employers’ recognition of the multiple benefits of diverse workplaces, participation by African-American and Hispanic people working in manufacturing increased only modestly over the past twenty-five years.25 This slow growth suggests that companies will need new strategies to hire and retain the growing numbers of people of color in the country, who are projected to comprise half of the U.S. workforce by 2045.26 Public initiatives, in cooperation with the private sector, can incentivize companies to hire and support women and people of color in their efforts to advance in manufacturing, as well as bolstering public education for these underrepresented groups.

In Wisconsin, INSPIRE Madison’s Economic Development and Diversity Summit, an annual event, offers educational and mentorship opportunities for women and minorities.27 The state also requires manufacturing companies to follow hiring standards which promote diversity in the workplace, such as those outlined in the U.S. Employment Plan.28 Finally, child care and transportation assistance is available through various programs, with funding drawn down from every level (city, county, state, and federal). Workforce programs are also delivered through various community locations, with a variety of hours and collaborative structures to increase and encourage accessibility. The Madison College South Campus,29 which recently opened,will have transportation and child care assistance for its students.

In Ohio, educational outreach efforts aiming to attract women or minorities to manufacturing include the state Department of Education’s outreach initiative, Career-Tech Education/National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity.30 Furthermore, the state departments of education and labor initiated an outreach effort to recruit and train more women and minorities in manufacturing. The program targets its outreach to middle school and high school students and allows students to use pre-apprenticeship work towards graduation requirements.

Invest in Innovation

Strong manufacturing communities depend on the ability of firms to innovate. Innovation is a vital component of a sustainable manufacturing future, because the new products and processes that result drive growth and create new wealth. At the state level, investments in innovation should focus on strengthening regional industrial clusters.

Pennsylvania has taken action in the three most important innovation-related policy areas. In terms of state-provided innovation grants, there is a program funded by the Department of Community and Economic Development called Ben Franklin Technology Partners that provides funding and technical support for technology-based economic development.31 In addition, the PA Life Science Greenhouse Initiative designated $3 million between its three Life Science Greenhouse organizations.32 Those organizations provide funds (through grants, loans, or equity investments) to businesses, educational institutions or research organizations expanding business/innovation in the life science/biotechnology industry.

Pennsylvania’s state tax incentives for cooperative applied research includes the Research and Development Tax Credit, which offers a non-refundable tax credit equal to 10 percent of a company’s research and development expenses over a given period.33 The credits are assignable, and may be carried forward for up to fifteen years.

Other measures to support regional industrial clusters include PA Made Again, a Pennsylvania Department of Labor program “focused on promoting job creation, growth and retention in manufacturing by building networks of industrial clusters in a 52-county Pennsylvania region.” The initiative facilitates collaboration among manufacturers, colleges, and research institutions in the area, while developing a pipeline of skilled manufacturing workers, all with the goal of generating foreign and domestic investor interest. The project’s collaborative industry model will build a strong pipeline of middle-skilled and highly skilled manufacturing workers through new and/or expanded training courses in industrial maintenance, computer numeric controls machining, and various trades along the industrial production career pathway.

Ohio also provides innovation funding to support applied research collaborations between research institutes and manufacturing firms through its Ohio Third Frontier Program. This includes a research commercialization grant program, which supports accelerated Ohio commercialization by awarding small companies federal research and development funding; and an Innovation Ohio loan fund, which assists Ohio companies in developing next-generation products and services in targeted industry sectors by financing the acquisition, construction, and financing of technology, facilities, and equipment. A separate grant program, called the Jobs Ohio Research & Development Center Grant, offers grants to companies creating new research and development centers in Ohio that are in line with the development of emerging technologies or products that align with target industries. Ohio also offers R&D tax credits, amounting to 7 percent of qualified research and development expenses, and which can be carried forward for up to seven years.34

Other measures in the state to support regional industrial clusters include the Ohio Edison Technology Centers, comprised of seven centers established to promote innovation and R&D in specialized manufacturing subsectors.35 These centers were initially established by the state in the 1980s, and while independent now, have received periodic support.

Wisconsin provides innovation grants to support cooperative applied research efforts between research institutes and manufacturing firms.36 Other measures to support regional industrial clusters include a state division on business and industry that funds regional and cluster research using their Targeted Industry Project (TIP) program.37 Wisconsin also offers R&D tax credits, for up to 5.75 percent of qualified R&D expenses that can be carried forward for up to fifteen years.38

Invest Responsibly

The pension funds of hard-working Americans across the country—such as public employees, teachers, construction workers, and steelworkers—are collectively bargained, deferred wages that are owed to them. While states should explore a variety of capital strategies, their most powerful option is to establish a responsible pension investment policy with an economically targeted, in-state component. A responsible investment policy can be applied to other state assets, such as the treasury, and to other sources of the people’s money.

Three Great Lakes states in particular have been championing this sort of responsible investment policy.

Wisconsin’s Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) has multiple funding programs that support community, social, environmental and housing initiatives, including but not limited to new market tax credits, opportunity zones, and various affordable housing tax credits programs to name a few. The State of Wisconsin has a 100 percent funded state retirement pension, and works with Forward Community Investments, a certified development finance institution (CDFI) that works on diversity, inclusion, community and housing projects—a very strong CDFI that is statewide in its scope.

Illinois’s late 2019 passage of a sweeping environmental, social, and governance (ESG) bill, the Sustainable Investing Act, stands to offer one of the best models for this set of policies. As summarized by Heartland Capital Strategies, the bill “codifies sustainable investing as a best practice for public fund managers in Illinois; applies to all public investments by the state, local governments, and public entities, including pension funds; [and] establishes a framework for public fund managers to consider ESG risks and other factors in their investment portfolios and a method for implementation.”39

New York’s ESG efforts, while not codified, come mostly from the state’s comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, who has led the charge to advance ESG investing, including appointing an ESG director40 to the New York State Common Retirement Fund, pledging to double the pension plan’s ESG funding to $20 billion over the next ten years, and divesting from funds that do not meet ESG requirements.41 Many new investments have already been made.42 The Common Fund also provides capital for small business loans and for new and renovated housing for low/moderate households throughout New York State.43


COVID-19 had posed a major threat to industries across the economy, manufacturing included. But this moment has also created an opportunity to reconfirm the value of a strong manufacturing sector that can produce the goods we need in a coordinated and timely manner. This report offers many concrete ways to turn this understanding into action, and commit to a sector that has long provided good-paying jobs for a diverse workforce.

Appendix: Methodology and Sources

The research for this report was conducted through a combination of surveys, interviews, and secondary sources such as government websites and journalism articles. For each of the seven Great Lakes states, we selected a handful of individuals—most of them members of our High Wage America coalition—who are knowledgeable about their state’s manufacturing policies, and sent them a survey covering the nine action areas discussed in the TCF report. Those surveyed included industry participants, nonprofit experts, and state government staff. For each of the nine action areas, respondents could tell us whether that policy or service was provided, partially provided, or not provided by their state; they could also tell us whether that policy was being implemented at a local level.

We received responses from all seven states, and those answers provide the core of our research. This body of information was supplemented with some additional outreach to knowledgeable individuals and the aforementioned reading of secondary sources. In sum, we received information on seven of the nine action areas recommended in the TCF report; on the other two action areas—reshoring and state manufacturing task force—our research yielded too little information to be able to reliably confirm or deny their presence in the state. Where the recommended policies do exist, they are not necessarily named the same way, implemented in the same fashion, or directed by the same agency in every state.

Survey respondents included:


Shelly Belton, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity


Emily Scott, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)


David Boulay, Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC)


Matt Smith, Ohio AFL-CIO


Tom Croft, Steel Valley Authority
Steve Herzenberg, Keystone Research
Anne DeCecco, Pennsylvania Treasury


Seth Lentz, Workforce Development Board of South Central Wisconsin
Michael Gay, MadREP


Christy Veeder, Jobs to Move America
Brian Lombardozzi, Alliance for American Manufacturing
Harry Moser, Reshoring Initiative


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  2. Authors’ calculations based on Bureau of Labor Statistics December 2019 data. Selected state manufacturing employment comprises 3.7 percent of national manufacturing data, to be precise.
  3. Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Wisconsin.
  4. Surveys were supplemented by secondary research. The findings are not conclusive, as there may be programs we’ve missed. If you have any additional information that could be added or amended, please contact Amanda Novello at [email protected]—we’d be happy to learn more.
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