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U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, a Taylorville Republican, right, tours the Bridgestone Americas Off Road tire plant in Normal on Thursday.

FOR THE PANTAGRAPH

NORMAL — U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis hopes a tax break for businesses that offer apprenticeships can get Americans off social programs and back to work.

"We've got historic low unemployment right now but historic high usage of government benefit programs," the Taylorville Republican said Thursday — national unemployment is at its lowest point since 2001 but was lower in 2000. "We need to focus on workforce development. We need to get more people into the trades."

Davis addressed reporters after touring Normal's Bridgestone Americas Off Road tire plant, which employs more than 400 and relies on the type of skilled labor made possible through apprenticeships, said Davis. 

Bridgestone officials declined to speak to reporters at the event.

"They don't have the applicants coming in to take those jobs. ... We ought to be able to invest tax dollars in Washington to help get people the training they need for the jobs that are available," he said. "The goal, too, would be to make sure that places like (Bridgestone) work with our local educators to ensure that our counselors are talking to kids about going into the trades and what the potential is for them."

Davis said businesses like Bridgestone can benefit from a bill he proposed that would give them a tax break for each apprentice they hire. The proposal is in a House committee, but he's optimistic it will move to the House floor.

"I want to make sure it's an incentive for businesses ... just like we've incentivized through the tax code people to actually keep more money in their paycheck," said Davis, referring to tax breaks approved in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act last fall.

Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, Davis' Democratic opponent in the fall election, said of the bill in a statement, “Of course job training and apprenticeships should be a bipartisan priority — they would certainly be higher on my list than taking health care away from working families and giving tax breaks to large corporations, which is what Rep. Davis accomplished last year.”

Davis also visited the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council's "BN By the Numbers" luncheon Thursday and announced winners in the 2017 Congressional App Challenge, including Normal Community High School's Alyxandra Merrit, who won third place in the district for her “Marching Band Buddy” application.

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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