VP Pence touts trade pact benefits in Pennsylvania stop

Vice President Mike Pence dropped in Thursday on the presidential battleground state of Pennsylvania, where he toured a maker of packaging robots and urged Congress to pass a new trade pact with Canada and Mexico to benefit Pennsylvania's manufacturing sector.

Pence predicted the trade pact would increase the more than $14 billion in goods and services that Pennsylvania already sells to Canada and Mexico.

"You're going to create even more jobs, more opportunity and more prosperity right here in Pennsylvania," Pence told a crowd of employees and Republican faithful on the manufacturing floor of York-based JLS Automation.

JLS Automation's president and CEO, Craig Souser, told the crowd that the thriving 64-year-old company has benefited from selling to Canada's food market, but a modernized trade policy like the administration's deal with Canada and Mexico, would open new avenues.

"We need Congress to help level the playing field," Souser said. "We can take care of the rest."

Democrats have sought stronger enforcement of labor standards and oppose a provision protecting drugmakers from competition.

Pence's visit comes as President Donald Trump's campaign is ramping up its reelection effort in a state where he scored a surprise 2016 win, delivering a crushing loss to Democrat Hillary Clinton on his way to becoming the first Republican to win Pennsylvania since 1988.

Since then, Republicans have suffered a string of high-profile election losses in Pennsylvania, raising questions about whether Trump can win the state again.

Pence's appearance at JLS Automation was in friendly territory, a heavily Republican area represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry. While it's far from a Democratic stronghold, Democrats are targeting Perry in 2020's election, after he won last year's election by less than 3 percentage points.

At JLS Automation, Pence said manufacturing has come "roaring back" under Trump, wages are rising fastest for the working class and unemployment is hitting rock-bottom.

In Pennsylvania, the unemployment rate hit a record low in April and payrolls hit a record high for a third straight month. While Pennsylvania's median wages grew faster than the rest of the nation last year, after being adjusted for inflation, they grew more slowly for workers in the bottom 10th percentile of income, according to an analysis of census data by the labor-affiliated Keystone Research Center.

Pence pointed out that manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania have risen by 6,000 since December 2016, right before Trump became president. That's an increase of about 1 percent, and Souser said his company's payroll has tripled in recent years.

However, federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that Pennsylvania's manufacturing jobs are below where they were in 2015 and are down about 6,000 in the last six months alone, even as the state's payrolls rose by 26,000 jobs.

Pence also spoke at a state party dinner fundraiser in suburban Harrisburg on Thursday evening.