NAFTA Turning 20: How Has It Impacted Northeast Indiana?

By WISE Web News

December 4, 2013 Updated Dec 4, 2013 at 6:52 PM EDT

NORTHEAST INDIANA, (21ALIVE) --- Two decades later, are we better, or worse off because of the North American Free Trade Agreement?

NAFTA was signed into law 20 years ago this week.

The idea was to create a powerful trade bloc, and trigger an explosion of new jobs and investment.

Supporters insist NAFTA by 2011 had quadrupled U.S. trade with Canada and Mexico.

But critics, including organized labor, say the deal killed a ton of American manufacturing jobs, and that Northeast Indiana got hit really hard.

Tom Lewandowski, with this area's Central Labor Council, says Zollner Piston, General Electric, and a United Technologies auto parts plant in Grabill are all examples of local companies that moved good paying manufacturing jobs to Mexico because of NAFTA.

Indeed, the AFL-CIO blames NAFTA for the loss of almost 700,000 American manufacturing positions.

A top economic development official from Wabash County supports the concept of free trade, but concedes NAFTA hurt his county's job situation.

" I'm not a big fan of the results as it has affected us. There are other places in the country that I'm sure that it has worked well. Now we've adapted, we've changed, we continue to adapt as a result of it,” said Bill Konyha, President of the Wabash County jobs organization.

" We lost so many jobs, we used to be above the national average in wages, now we're below, and that's because of this public policy," said Lewandowski.

Konyha says his group has shifted focus away from auto parts manufacturing, to try and attract more food processing operations, logistics and distribution and advanced manufacturing prospects.

He says they are drawing good paying jobs in those categories, but that there are far fewer of them.

Lewandowski is convinced we would be a lot better off, if NAFTA had never happened.

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