Commentary

Loss of manufacturing leaving U.S. dangerously vulnerable

Neighbor Grover sez he’s reading a book about anti-gravity and just can’t put it down. I hope you saw the report released last week by the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM). It says the U.S. is at risk of being dangerously unprepared for serious emergencies because of the off-shoring of critical manufacturing sectors and a reliance on foreign suppliers for products needed in the wake of catastrophic events.

The report says the U.S. must revitalize its manufacturing capacity to reduce such vulnerability. It was co-authored by Tom Ridge, the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Robert B. Stephan, a former Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security for Infrastructure Protection.

Last week, this column dealt with an optimistic report that says some U.S. industries are trending to “on-shoring” jobs, reversing a trend of off-shoring. This AAM report makes that trend all the more critical.

“There is a direct nexus between a strong domestic manufacturing sector and America’s ability to prevent, mitigate, recover from and rebuild quickly in the wake of catastrophic events,” said Ridge. “Revitalizing America’s domestic manufacturing capacity must become a clear and urgent national priority at all levels of government and among industry leaders.”

The report illustrates the growing frequency of major catastrophic events, man-made and natural, as well as new threats like cyber attacks and pandemics. It contains specific recommendations for restoring the nation’s internal capacity to address emergencies, including revitalized manufacturing, investment in America’s infrastructure using U.S.- made materials, strengthened public-private collaboration, and enforcement of trade laws.

The U.S. now relies on foreign suppliers for everything from steel, cement, batteries and critical high-technology components to every day medical supplies such as antibiotics and penicillin. The resultant risks include not having access to needed materials and products, delayed delivery times, and the poor quality of some imported products. These problems are becoming more noteworthy given the fragility of the nation’s aging infrastructure.

The report is the first comprehensive analysis of America’s growing reliance on global suppliers—many that may not have the best interests of the U.S. at heart in a time of crisis, or those who cannot meet demand quickly in times of emergency, given the complexity of the global supply chain.

“Relying on a potentially hostile trading partner in a time of need puts our national security at risk,” the report states.

China produced five times the amount of steel that U.S. companies did in 2008, and Chinese cement was used in construction on half of American home foundations prior to the recent recession. Today, no U.S. plant produces the key ingredients for antibiotics.

“The nation’s worn out infrastructure is the soft underbelly that provides an inviting target for attacks that can have a widespread, devastating impact,” said Stephan. “Hardening our critical infrastructure is key to preventing and mitigating disastrous events such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters concerning power plants, pipelines, and transportation systems.”

The report recommends taking a twotrack approach to reduce vulnerabilities and to build the capacity to respond and recover quickly and efficiently in the aftermath of a catastrophic disaster. Some recommendations include:

• Develop a plan to make the restoration of a strong American manufacturing sector a key component of both national and economic security strategies.

• Reinvest in America’s infrastructure, using U.S.-made materials.

• Revitalize American manufacturing, including the use of domestic-content preferences that maximize the power of federal procurement funds.

• Enforce trade laws to ensure a level playing field for U.S. manufacturers and their workers facing unfair competition.

• Invest in the American workforce to ensure we have the trained workers needed to rebuild our infrastructure and work in a modern manufacturing sector.

“This report should serve as a wakeup call,” said Scott Paul, AAM executive director. “Unfortunately, not enough has changed since Sept. 11, 2001, and even since Hurricane Katrina seven years ago as U.S. manufacturing’s decline has continued.”

Are you listening up there, D.C.?

bill@rockdalereporter.com


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2012-08-02 digital edition



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