When Democratic National Convention delegates head to Time
Warner Cable Arena, they'll file past tall sculptures outside the building
that resemble spindles and bobbins -- a nod to North Carolina's textile past.
It's an image that also highlights one of the hottest issues in the presidential election: What happened to American manufacturing, and how can the country bring jobs back?
From stumping at North Carolina plants to highlighting Charlotte-area companies in their speeches, both President Barack Obama and GOP nominee-in-waiting Mitt Romney have staked claim to being the candidate to get more Americans working.
That talk isn't likely to subside when the Democratic National Convention comes to Charlotte Sept. 4-6, and as campaign ad wars intensify in battleground states including North Carolina.
Bringing manufacturing jobs back home is a theme that resonates in the Carolinas: Since 1990, North Carolina lost more than 395,000 manufacturing jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. South Carolina has lost more than 72,000 manufacturing jobs since 2002, the earliest year available.
The picture is not all bleak: High-tech manufacturing is on the rise. And Charlotte is pinning high hopes on the energy sector as the city looks to diversify its economy.
But some say challenges remain that could stifle manufacturing's growth, including stiff federal regulations, trade disparities that make China's exports cheap, and trouble finding enough skilled workers.
And the unemployment rate in the Carolinas and throughout the country remains stubbornly high -- 9.6 percent in both Carolinas in July, compared to 8.3 percent for the U.S. Nationally, unemployment in the manufacturing sector was 9 percent in 2011, compared to 6.7 percent in 2002.
Still, in North Carolina, the number of manufacturing jobs exceeds those in construction, finance, and accommodation and food services, according to the N.C. Division of Employment Security. And in 2011, N.C. manufacturing jobs rose by about 3,000 over 2010, to nearly 435,000.
Both presidential candidates have filled their television ads with manufacturing imagery: hard-hat workers, auto plant assembly lines, bustling vs. dormant factories.
Among the steps in Romney's plan: curtailing unfair trade practices of China and others, not favoring union workers for government projects, and capping federal spending.
Obama's plan includes creating high-tech jobs and boosting U.S. exports. And he's credited his bailout of the auto industry as saving jobs and manufacturing in the Midwest.
Cochrane favors Romney
Lincolnton furniture maker Bruce Cochrane has been lauded by Obama for being part of a "reshoring" trend to return manufacturing jobs to the U.S.
But Cochrane favors Romney.
Cochrane worked as a consultant in China and Vietnam after his family sold its furniture business in 1996. Then he invested $5 million to bring jobs back to North Carolina. Lincolnton Furniture began production in 2011.
Cochrane and other small business owners were invited this year to the White House to discuss how to create jobs in the U.S. The trip was worth it for face-time with the president to raise awareness, Cochrane said. Still, he
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