NORTH CANTON, Ohio -- This was once a manufacturing hub where Hoover Co. made vacuums and a nearby steel plant employed tens of thousands. Many of those jobs have left the area, some disappearing entirely, others going overseas. Since then, some have returned, but the decline was one vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan tried to exploit Thursday in the swing region of Stark County, Ohio, calling out China for its restrictive trade practices and President Obama for failing to regulate them.
“President Obama promised he’d stop these practices, he said he’d go to the mat with China; instead, they’re treating him like a doormat,” Ryan said in a packed gymnasium at Walsh University here.
The Chinese “steal our intellectual property, they block access to their markets, they manipulate their currency,” he said. “Free trade is a powerful tool for peace and prosperity but our trading partners need to play by the rules.”
Stark County has chosen the winning president every year but one since 1980. The region, once a manufacturing hub, has only 27,400 manufacturing jobs in the Canton-Massillon area – in 2002, there were 37,800.
Still, the region has benefited significantly from government tax credits and incentives, something that Ryan has repeatedly said he opposes. Hoover Co. made vacuum cleaners here since 1908, but when the manufacturing plant closed in 2007, Suarez Corp. Industries moved into a Hoover distribution center. The company, which makes EdenPURE space heaters, struck a deal with the city to avoid paying income taxes for its first two years. It formerly made its heaters in China, but the company returned its operations to the U.S. after some production delays.
Other nearby towns in Ohio have gotten big help from the government to jump-start manufacturing. GM, which received money from the auto bailout, also got $82 million in tax credits from the state of Ohio to add 1,400 jobs at a plant in Lordstown, where it recently began making the Chevrolet Cruze. Ryan plans to visit that region later Thursday. Goodyear in Akron and a General Motors plant in Toledo have also received significant incentives from the state, according to the regional chamber of commerce.
Speaking before Ryan, U.S. Rep. Joe Renacci called the stimulus bill “the biggest boondoggle in American history.”
Obama has stepped up his pressure on China over trade. In July, just before a bus tour in northeastern Ohio, Obama filed a formal complaint to the World Trade Organization in Geneva that Beijing was abusing trade laws, specifically in the form of $3 billion in duties on automobile imports. The administration also filed a WTO complaint in March against China to force it to lift export restrictions on rare earth minerals.
Ryan also blamed job losses in the region and in his hometown of Janesville, Wis., on Obama’s energy policies. A GM plant in Janesville which built Tahoes and Suburbans shut down in 2009.
“One of the reasons that plant got shut down was $4 gasoline,” he said. “You see, this costs jobs. The President’s terrible energy policies are costing us jobs.”
The event was Ryan’s third event in as many days in packed gymnasiums where the crowd’s cheers were amplified by the acoustics. Still, the audience responded well to Ryan’s speech, with one man shouting out that he loved Ryan. The event at the Catholic university began with a prayer and music from a marching band.
A handful of protesters met the congressman’s motorcade, holding Obama signs and posters that read “Republican plan = let em die plan.”