Ross visit to Salem

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross (center) was in the Roanoke Valley on June 14 to talk up the U.S.-Canada-Mexico Agreement, the proposed successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Ross toured the Graham-White plant in Salem, which makes components for the transportation industry, because the company’s two largest export markets are Canada and Mexico. At left is U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem. At right is Dan Hughes, director of operations at Graham-White.

By George Allen

Allen served Virginia in the House of Delegates, Congress, as governor and U.S. senator. Allen currently is chairman of the Manufacturing Competitiveness Initiative of the National Association of Manufacturers and is a Reagan Ranch Presidential Scholar for the Young America’s Foundation.

My fellow Virginians,

Freedom, Opportunity and Jobs are being considered by your legislators in both in Richmond and in Washington.

When I was honored to serve Virginia as governor, I recruited jobs and investment in and to Virginia proclaiming to the world that “Virginia is Open for Business!”

More than 312,000 net new private-sector jobs were created during my term which followed a recession. The competition for jobs in the post-Cold War world was intense as we worked to diversify our economy which brought forth the ‘Silicon Dominion.’ Virginia was then, as it is now, not only competing against others states, but also other countries which were transitioning to free markets and liberal democracy. It was an exciting time to be advocating for all of Virginia!

The U.S. House of Representatives is now considering the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement or “USMCA.” This updated, improved trade deal for Virginia’s 21st century economy would help us keep our competitive edge by replacing NAFTA which took effect more than 25 years ago. We all know that communications, connectivity and innovations have enhanced our lives since those days.

Passage of the USMCA is absolutely crucial for the ten thousands of Virginians and millions of Americans who make and grow world leading products.

This pending deal strengthens, secures and modernizes our manufacturing and agricultural innovation engines while expanding access to markets in Canada and Mexico. It also levels the regulatory playing field with Canada and Mexico which are our biggest customers by far. In fact, they buy more goods from Virginia than our next eleven trading partners combined.

The USMCA is better for our economy, our working families and our environment. This is particularly so in economically vulnerable rural and smaller metro regions who rely on manufacturing, farming and forestry as an economic base.

Recently, I re-read Gov. Gerald Baliles’ thoughtful, commendable op-ed published a year ago in which he calls for a Marshall Plan for rural Virginia centering around education.

Despite our different political perspectives, we both started our professional and public service in rural Virginia and care deeply for its future. I agree with Gov. Baliles that rural Virginia needs an infusion of educational investment along with broadband infrastructure. We also agreed that international trade is vital to the success of the next generations of Virginians. Much of that trade starts in rural Virginia.

As many of my fellow governors would attest, we also need to uphold our right-to-work statute that protects individual liberty and helps keep Virginia’s competitive edge against other states. It guarantees that no Virginian can be compelled to join a labor union as a condition of employment. While people are free join a union in Virginia, no one should be forced to pay union dues just to have a job providing income for their family.

Some candidates, surprisingly too many, for the Virginia General Assembly are openly campaigning on repealing Virginia’s right-to-work law. As governor, one of the key elements to every deal for which Virginia was competing was our bedrock economic principle that we are a right-to work state. At the time, Virginia was the northernmost right-to-work state. Since then other states have adopted right-to-work laws to compete against Virginia.

Right-to-work is grounded on one of my passions in life — individual liberty and opportunity in a Meritocracy. Americans must remain free to decide for themselves with whom they decide to associate. Unions are an important part of our workforce and can be a desirable option, but freedom of association is a just and essential human right.

Labor unions are best when they, too, have to compete by offering better value to their members. That is the very essence and, frankly, power of freedom and free markets.

Compulsory union membership as a condition of employment violates individual liberty and threatens economic growth especially for vulnerable parts of the Commonwealth.

I respectfully ask my fellow Virginians to call Congress to support the USMCA trade pact to open Canada and Mexico to products made and grown here in Virginia. I also respectfully ask candidates from all parties to support the freedom of our fellow workers’ right to work.

Let’s help all Virginia compete and succeed.

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