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Published in Manufacturing
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (second from left) tours an Engineered Manufactured Products (EMP) plant in Escanaba in 2019. U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (second from left) tours an Engineered Manufactured Products (EMP) plant in Escanaba in 2019. COURTESY PHOTO

Peters: U.S. ‘paying the price’ for lack of manufacturing strategy

BY Sunday, December 19, 2021 05:05pm

Throughout his tenure in Washington D.C., Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters has proven to be a consistent voice for the manufacturing industry. In April, he re-introduced a bill to create the National Institute of Manufacturing within the Department of Commerce. He has also introduced a bill to revamp a federal website to serve as a central hub for industry resources. As well, Peters authored provisions in the Senate-passed American Innovation and Competition Act to quell one of the country’s primary supply chain issues by bolstering domestic production of semiconductors. MiBiz spoke with Peters about what he hoped will come of his efforts in the coming years.

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The effects of the semiconductor shortage are well known and are stymying automotive production. Is this the most important supply chain issue, and what’s being done to solve it?

Part of what has to be done right now is creating more visibility as to where bottlenecks are occurring in the supply chain and where products actually are through that chain. I held a hearing in (the Commerce, Science and Transportation) committee and it was quite striking as to the lack of data that is out there in terms of actually where products are and where they’re being hung up, which is surprising to me. Right now, increased transparency is starting to help alleviate that. We heard from the committee that some of these bottlenecks are starting to open up, which is encouraging, but clearly we have to do a whole lot more in order for us to get back to normal.

What’s the long-term solution?

What we have to be thinking about, and what came out clear in our hearing, was that this is a long-term problem and the problem is two-fold. One, the ports we have are at capacity — the east and west coasts. And it’s very expensive to expand some of that capacity. As someone said, the most expensive real estate on the planet are those sea ports.

One solution that I certainly proposed … is that we better utilize our Great Lakes ports. We have Great Lakes ports that have capacity that is not being used right now. Investments in Great Lakes ports will give us the biggest bang for our dollar in terms of our ability to move material. That’s something we’ll be aggressively pursuing. The other aspect that is clear is that we’re overly dependent on foreign manufacturers for goods that we use in our country. We have to re-shore.

With a laundry list of national issues to address coming out of COVID, is the federal government doing enough to put manufacturing on the right track?

The important thing is the economy is showing we need to focus on manufacturing. The fact that we see more and more production in China and the bottlenecks you see in our ports and logistics systems, that’s something that has to be solved by private industry. Those aren’t government functions. That’s private industry and private industry will see the economics of being reliant on a foreign manufacturer simply aren’t very good and are getting worse.

I think the economics are moving in a way — in conjunction with advances in technology and in greater demand of resilience — that you’ll see American manufacturing will be economically very well positioned.

You’re pushing for a more unified manufacturing front at the federal level. Is that a cornerstone for a strong national industry?

Certainly, a coordinated manufacturing strategy makes sense, and it makes sense if you look at all the other advanced manufacturing countries in the world — they all do that. They put a focus on manufacturing. They try to work in conjunction with private industry to make sure they’re providing whatever is necessary in order for manufacturing to be strong in that country because they realize that manufacturing is at the heart of every economy. The United States has not had an overarching manufacturing strategy ever, whether under Democrat or Republican administrations. And we’re now paying the price.

Many manufacturers are worried about federal vaccine mandates and what it will do to already scant workforces. What would you tell West Michigan manufacturers about these measures?

I would hope that manufacturers would realize that the best thing that can possibly happen for their company is that we’re able to reduce the hospitalizations from COVID-19 and get in front of this virus, and if people don’t get a vaccine, we won’t. And none of these problems will be solved. We have a tool that we can use to get us through this pandemic and people have to use the tool.

Read 1284 times Last modified on Friday, 17 December 2021 12:14
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