Other Voices: Manufacturing investments must anchor American Jobs Plan
Tom Conway, International President United Steel Workers
Doug Melvin and his co-workers at Hodge Foundry endure the searing heat and grime of huge furnaces to manufacture parts that power America, from rings that keep railroads chugging to hubs that keep wind turbines spinning.
The question is whether they can keep the foundry itself operating. The COVID-19 recession and other factors dealt the 145-year-old Mercer County facility a blow, and Mr. Melvin, recording secretary for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 273M, worries about its future.
A nation that’s lost tens of thousands of factories in recent decades cannot afford to lose any more manufacturing muscle. And that’s why America must leverage the $2 trillion infrastructure package that President Joe Biden launched recently in Collier not only to repair crumbling roads and bridges but to build out the entire economy.
Significant, sustained investments in transportation, broadband, water supplies, energy sources, schools, dams, airports and communications networks will kick-start the economy, modernize the nation and strengthen it for the next crisis.
But America can only achieve — and sustain — true prosperity by also rebuilding industrial infrastructure decimated through neglect and offshoring.
Investments in manufacturing facilities like Hodge Foundry and reconstruction of hollowed-out supply chains — coupled with policies that build demand for U.S. products — will restore the nation’s capacity to produce finished goods as well as the parts and components that go into them.
That’s the only way to ensure America never again finds itself at the mercy of foreign equipment suppliers during a pandemic or experiences a shortage of computer chips like the one now disrupting the auto industry.
A manufacturing resurgence, long championed by the USW, will ensure that America maintains the capacity to produce cement for road construction, steel for bridges, insulation for utility systems and batteries for electric buses, along with the other items needed for emergencies and daily life. And a stronger, more expansive manufacturing base will have the wherewithal to swiftly capitalize on new opportunities — such as delivering the fiberglass, steel and other materials for a chain of wind farms now planned for the East Coast.
Mr. Melvin and his co-workers are among the few in the country with the expertise to cast huge wind farm parts, and America’s security depends on retaining it. “Otherwise, you’d have to go offshore to get it,” noted Mr. Melvin, a journeyman molder who’s worked at Hodge Foundry for 17 years.
It isn’t enough to invest trillions in new roads, bridges and other infrastructure and let manufacturers scramble for their shares in the projects.
A comprehensive rebuilding of the manufacturing base will require direct investments — like the $37 billion Mr. Biden already proposed for the computer chip industry — so operators can expand capacity and build redundancy into supply lines.
And it will require tax credits that encourage employers to buy new, modern equipment that will enable them to employ the latest technology and remain globally competitive.
It’s also essential to create strong, sustained demand for U.S. products. That means ensuring American workers provide the supplies for refurbished roads, new energy transmission lines and every other infrastructure project funded with taxpayer dollars.
Because of the potentially transformative impact, Mr. Biden’s infrastructure program merits bipartisan support.
Investments in clean drinking water will create healthier communities. Modern, fully equipped school buildings and the expansion of broadband will provide a more equitable distribution of resources across the country.
And refurbished highways and rail lines, rebuilt locks and dams and upgraded ports will help to quickly and efficiently deliver the products of America’s manufacturing revival across the country.
The new jobs and opportunities have the potential to bind Americans together and create a new, shared prosperity for generations to come.
Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers.
First Published April 18, 2021, 12:00am
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