updated 4/8/2004 11:15:57 AM ET 2004-04-08T15:15:57

The Bush administration on Thursday tapped a California businessman to serve as its manufacturing czar after the first pick withdrew his nomination over criticisms his company cut U.S. jobs and shifted work to China.

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Commerce Secretary Don Evans, in Ohio touting President Bush's economic policies, said the administration would nominate Al Frink as assistant commerce secretary of manufacturing and services.

Frink is a Hispanic businessman who owns Fabrica International in Orange County, Calif., a company that manufactures carpets and rugs.

"Al's extensive background as a manufacturer makes him a great candidate to serve because he has walked in their shoes and knows firsthand the barriers that are challenging American manufacturers," Evans said in a statement.

The Bush administration drew heavy fire last month for its nomination of Anthony Raimondo, the chief executive of Behlen Manufacturing Co. in Columbus, Neb.

Democrats questioned why the Bush administration chose Raimondo to guide government efforts to halt the hemorrhage of American manufacturing jobs, while he had laid off 75 of his own workers in 2002 after announcing he was constructing a $3 million plant in China.

Raimondo had defended his company's operations in China, saying that the Chinese facility had not meant lost jobs for his four U.S. plants but rather was an effort to sell into the Chinese market. Behlen manufactures steel buildings and farm equipment.

Offshoring is a touchy issue for the Bush administration in an election year.

Gregory Mankiw, the president's chief economist, had to apologize in February for appearing to be insensitive to the plight of unemployed workers in comments he made about outsourcing service jobs, such as call center workers, to foreign countries.

The administration also backtracked on its own economic forecast, which had predicted that 2.6 million jobs will be created this year, a figure private economists said was wildly optimistic.

The nation's manufacturers were battered in the 2001 recession and have yet to recover. The sector shed jobs for 43 consecutive months before stabilizing in March. Overall, the economy has lost 1.8 million jobs since President Bush took office, a record Democrats want to exploit to help put John Kerry in the White House.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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