National manufacturing leader defends Johnson Controls

The head of the National Association of Manufacturers defended Johnson Controls’ decision to move its headquarters for tax purposes overseas.

NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons called Hillary Clinton’s ad blasting Johnson Controls for its decision “cowardly.” The move to Ireland would save Johnson Controls about $150 million in taxes every year, although the company would keep its operational headquarters in Milwaukee.

“Companies have to invest where the cost of doing business makes them competitive, and to do otherwise would be professional malpractice,” Timmons told during an event in Milwaukee.

Timmons gave the keynote speech Friday at the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Focus on Manufacturing breakfast, where he put some of the blame on Congress. Lawmakers, he said, have to change the tax code to make it more attractive for manufacturers to stay in the country.

The U.S. is among the highest tax rates for manufacturers compared to other developed countries, he said.

“We have to fix our broken decrepit tax code,” he said. “ Congress needs to step up rather than allowing the executive branch to make laws on the system.”

NAM, for example, is advocating to lower the corporate tax rate to 25 percent or lower, compared to the current rate of 35 percent.

He also advocated for changes including delaying the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations curbing greenhouse gas emissions and developing a legal system to allow immigrants to remain in the U.S. and become permanent residents.

“A focus on manufacturing is more than a great title, it is something we should demand every day from our elected officials,” Timmons said. “When manufacturing succeeds, America succeeds.”

Timmons also addressed the industry’s “perception problem,” with 18 percent of people saying their top job choice is in manufacturing. The industry, he said, has among “the best paying jobs in the country,” a message that he said needs to get out more as baby boomers continue to retire.

Wisconsin, he said, plays a key role in that task. He touted the strength of the state’s manufacturing industry, noting he always uses products made in Wisconsin.

“It’s like you’re always with me even when I am not here,” he quipped.

— By Jordyn Noennig,