Lansing State Journal: A better manufacturing strategy could strengthen, save the economy
In Michigan, we’ve proven time and time again that we step up in times of need. We saw it during World War II, when the Arsenal of Democracy built the tanks and planes that defeated tyranny. We see it each and every day when Michigan service members volunteer to put their lives on the line in defense of our values and security. And we’re seeing it now during the Coronavirus pandemic: where workers from all sectors of our economy are stepping up to care for the sick and keep our economy afloat.
But beyond the painful and tragic losses we’ve seen this year, one thing has become very obvious: we were severely unprepared for this pandemic. And a big reason was our dependence on foreign manufacturers and competitors like China.
To be clear, there were already warning signs before the pandemic. As ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I released a report last year on prescription drugs. One key takeaway was our reliance on countries like China and India for our medical supplies and drug production was a national security threat. In my report, I concluded that if a pandemic were to strike, we did not have the domestic manufacturing capacity to produce the syringes, needles and personal protection equipment needed to get through a crisis.
And sure enough: we did not.
As the first wave of the pandemic hit Michigan, we were critically dependent on manufacturers in Asia to provide us with the basic necessities we needed to fight back against the virus. The state that once supplied the Arsenal of Democracy quickly went to work determining how to manufacture these items. And while I’m so proud that our manufacturers have stepped up since then — we simply can’t rely on foreign manufacturers when lives are on the line and our economy is hurting.
That’s why we need a hub for manufacturing and a comprehensive federal strategy that will finally prioritize manufacturers as a key part of our national security and economy. Right now, federal manufacturing policy is virtually non-existent. We have a piecemeal approach, where over 50 government programs across 11 agencies are siloed and uncoordinated. According to the Government Accountability Office, our piecemeal approach to manufacturing means we don’t even know how much we spend on manufacturing programs at the federal level.
I’ve introduced legislation to establish a National Institute of Manufacturing, or NIM. I worked with Michigan manufacturers, labor leaders, trade associations and others on how we could effectively raise the profile of manufacturing in the federal government in order to strengthen our nation’s ability to compete with countries that artificially subsidize their own manufacturing industries.
The NIM will take all those government programs and house them under one roof, overseen by a Chief Manufacturing Officer, who would oversee directorates to bolster research and development, prepare our workforce with the skills and training needed to build good-paying careers, and keep our small and medium sized manufacturers at the forefront of innovation.
The NIM would also prepare our manufacturing sector to contribute effectively to national response efforts in the event of major crises — just like the pandemic we’re currently in.
It is long past time for us to follow the lessons of the past to create a 21st Century solution to the problems plaguing American manufacturing. Passing the National Institute of Manufacturing Act will not only help fortify the manufacturing sector that is critical in times of crisis, but also ensure that future generations of welders, designers and engineers across Michigan are ready to build whatever our country and the world needs next.
U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) is Michigan’s junior U.S. Senator and serves on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, as well as Ranking Member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
By: U.S. Senator Gary Peters
Source: Lansing State Journal