More than 300 guests filled a tent set up in a rain-soaked field to see Vice President Mike Pence help executives break ground on a new Lancaster manufacturing plant.
The Canadian automotive supply company Magna is building a plant to manufacture seats for cars. The project will create more than 300 jobs.
Pence touted that cross-border investment, and called on attendees to push Congress to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, or USMCA
“We’re here today to really celebrate a great day,” Pence told reporters. “It’s the largest economic development project in the history of Fairfield County, at least for 20 years. But we’re also really here today to tell the people of Ohio and to no less extent of America that the time has come for Congress to pass the USMCA.”
The agreement would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, as the framework for international trade between the three countries.
Among the changes Pence highlighted are provisions requiring at least 40% of a car’s parts be made by workers earning $16 an hour. He argued this move will remove the incentive to shift production “south of the border.”
“Today’s ground-breaking is yet another sign that under President Donald Trump, this economy is roaring, our nation is prospering and American manufacturing is back,” Pence said to raucous applause.
But while the country has added almost 500,000 manufacturing jobs since Trump took office, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total number of those jobs still hasn’t reached pre-Recession levels.
Pence’s visit points to a sense of urgency in the administration when it comes to passing the trade deal. The vice president repeatedly returned to the point that the measure should be passed, and passed this year—before attention shifts to presidential primaries.
“What we want to avoid is having the USMCA slide into next year—we all know Ohio has always played an outsized role in presidential elections and will again this year,” Pence said.
Trade played an important role in the 2016 election, with the Trans-Pacific Partnership creating a potential fault line in the Democratic primary before Hillary Clinton abandoned the idea. Once Clinton won the nomination, Trump used her past support of the deal as a cudgel against her.
But after launching multiple trade wars, the effects of which have fallen heavily on the agricultural communities among Trump’s strongest supporters, the administration is looking to notch a win before returning to voters.