American factories roared back from the Great Recession and now contribute $2 trillion a year to the U.S. economy, the head of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) told Minnesota's manufacturing elite Wednesday during the first stop of a national tour.

NAM President Jay Timmons flew in from Washington, D.C., to deliver the good news to the Economic Club of Minnesota, which includes members such as NAM co-founder 3M Co., plus Cargill, Ecolab, Donaldson Co. and Apogee.

Timmons kicked off NAM's first nationwide tour from Minneapolis because of the wealth of manufacturing that exists in the state and the resilience such companies displayed.

Despite restrictive trade policies, crippling government regulation, crumbling roads and backed-up ports and railways, Timmons said Minnesota factories have done their part to help revive an industry that "tripped" badly during the Great Recession.

"Minnesota is home to some of the most recognizable manufacturers in the world … and today the state of manufacturing is as resilient and robust as ever. You are responsible for contributing $37 billion to your state's economy," Timmons told the 340 Minnesota executives, economists, bankers, lawyers and Chambers of Commerce members who came to hear him speak at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

After slashing staffs during the Great Recession, Minnesota manufacturers are again hiring and now provide one in every seven jobs in the state, he said. "That's the largest total payroll of any sector here."

Timmons praised 3M's global reach, noting it has 88,000 workers in 70 countries. He commended Bloomington-based Apogee for its architectural glass and noted that it will soon cover the entire Vikings stadium in glass. He also singled out Graco. After the luncheon, he toured its Minneapolis factory, where 450 workers make foam-spraying machines and other equipment.

Timmons, who became NAM CEO and president four years ago, was in Minnesota on a rare visit. The 120-year-old advocacy group he leads represents 14,000 companies that employ 12 million workers.

Ecolab CEO Douglas Baker called NAM a "champion" in advocating for U.S. manufacturers, and Timmons is "one of the top movers and shakers" in Washington, D.C. He credited Timmons, who was once chief of staff for then-U.S. Sen. George Allen, R-Va., for being relentless in lobbying for manufacturers on Capitol Hill.

Timmons said he is determined to share the industry's successes and challenges with members around the country. Besides Minneapolis he also will visit 12 other cities over three weeks, including Detroit, Cleveland and cities in Washington state, Colorado, Texas and Alabama.

While Timmons noted many accomplishments, he said the manufacturing sector still faces significant challenges.

Timmons implored factory heads to lobby Congress to squash burdensome regulations, pass broader trade policies, improve ports, railways and roads and pass legislation that creates long-term export financing options for U.S. manufacturers.

The recent slowdown of West Coast ports and U.S. railways had "slammed manufacturers," he said.

He insisted that the United States needs an "aggressive trade agenda" that opens new trade agreements in Asia and ends punishing tariffs in Europe. Both could be accomplished, he said, if Congress passed controversial Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) laws and improved both the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Such policies would benefit Minnesota factories, he said.

"In Minnesota, international trade supports nearly 755,000 jobs and generated nearly $21 billion in exports in 2013," he said. "Customers in 209 countries buy Minnesotan goods and services. So a smart trade policy is the difference between growing those businesses and shutting their doors."

Timmons urged the audience to actively advocate for the manufacturing, especially "when our policymakers choose wrongly. Don't act or sit idle because the missed opportunity costs are higher for our sector."

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725