For years, business was good for area electrical workers, but since 2001, union leaders have seen a 30 percent drop-off in employment, and argue China is a big reason why.
"We always did a lot of work in these plants and they've closed. There's a lot of work here we're not doing. We don't live in China, we don't work below the border and so forth, so we're losing a lot of work," electrical workers business manager Tom Eschen said.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, Illinois lost 74,000 jobs since 2001 because of increased trade deficits with China. However, Bob Levin, head of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, says job loss is never black and white, adding several local businesses benefit from open trade with China.
"I understand that many of our manufacturers, particularly our supply chain providers, feel pinched by the comparative prices that have come across the border outside the U.S. shores. I understand that, but we have to look at ourselves on how we want to solve the problem, not fix the blame," Levin said.
Levin believes business can rise again locally. However, he says companies must be more aggressive and more educated than ever to compete and stay afloat with Chinese labor.
"Our global competitiveness is going to require us to go on a continuous journey for continuous improvement, and the corporations that understand that are doing that," Levin said.
Eschen, however, isn't confident local jobs will come back until trade policy rewards companies to stay in the U.S., and local shoppers stay loyal to local products.
"Consumers have to start looking for products that are made in this country, because we live here, we work here, and if we work here and make the money, we need to spend it, everybody profits from it," Eschen said.
The Economic Policy Institute in Washington estimates that Wisconsin lost 41,000 jobs based on low-cost imports from China.