In Trump stronghold, factories are humming but paychecks are thin

Fri Dec 9, 2016 8:32am EST
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By Nick Carey and Andy Sullivan

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich./WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When President-elect Donald Trump returns to this factory town on Friday for a victory celebration, he will find a region that is already experiencing the manufacturing renaissance he promised on the campaign trail.

With local factories employing more workers than any time since the late 1990s, assembly line jobs are not hard to find. Those that pay a decent wage, however, are harder to come by.

"We can barely make ends meet and we're stuck going nowhere," said auto parts worker Michael Baum, 22, as he smoked a cigarette in the parking lot of a Family Dollar discount store.

Trump won the White House thanks to strong support from workers in Midwestern cities like Grand Rapids who have seen their living standards erode as the United States shed manufacturing jobs. He beat Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by a margin of 14 percent in the four counties that make up the Grand Rapids metropolitan area, helping him carry Michigan by a margin of 0.27 percent.

Trump has promised to punish companies that shift work overseas, pressuring manufacturers like United Technologies Corp. to reverse their outsourcing plans.

"Our jobs are being stolen like candy from a baby," Trump said at a rally here the night before the Nov. 8 election.

Grand Rapids, a hub of furniture makers and auto parts suppliers, has not been immune to outsourcing. At least 488 people have lost their jobs over the past year as two manufacturers, Dematic Corp and Leon Automotive Interiors, have shifted work to other countries, U.S. Labor Department filings show.

But new hiring has more than made up for those losses. The number of factory jobs in the region has grown by 40 percent since the depths of the recession in 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and unemployment stands at 2.9 percent, well below the national average of 4.6 percent.   Continued...

Mark Hoedee, a worker at transformer manufacturer RoMan Manufacturing welds a secondary coil for a transformer at the company's factory in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S., December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Nick Carey