By William Knab
The recent events surrounding the coronavirus have brought to light a serious problem existing in our country. This started decades ago as American industry started to divest domestic manufacturing in lieu of cheaper offshore alternatives.
Politicians and CEOs only looked at the upside but there was a dark side that was downplayed to the point of absurdity.
In 1971 a Ford executive my father knew questioned why I purchased a European-made car. My reply was, “Why does Ford buy French steel for Woodlawn with a steel mill right next door?”
To this he had no answer but we all know what it is. In 1971 a car that got 22 mpg was key to a college student like me. It saved more money for beer on the weekends with my $10 a week college allowance.
This outsourcing trend started and accelerated in the coming decades, leading to a massive decline in the manufacture of critical goods “Made in the USA.” The trend was enhanced by many administrations, both Republican and Democratic, since then. The declaration by President Obama that “these jobs aren’t coming back” was yet another admission of defeat.
When you outsource critical manufacturing, you are vulnerable to the whims and politics of the manufacturing country. We do not make 90% of our antibiotics and the majority of all active pharmaceutical intermediates in this country. We do not make critical explosives for our military.
Our exposure was well-known but downplayed until now, when it is so glaringly obvious and threatening. We should now be worried in the coming months as the supply chain plays out.
It is time where our very lives and way of life mandate that manufacture of essential chemicals be at the very least be on standby to switch gears and make these items here. If this happens only once a month per year to maintain a domestic supply of critical materials this will help thwart any threats.
The majority of my chemical career in procurement was spent having critical items custom made here in the U.S. to assure supply security. This also provided negotiation leverage for all the items that were outsourced offshore and manufacturing equipment sold or repurposed.
I had a busy career correcting short-sighted strategies of managers who discounted the advice of seasoned people who knew the consequences all too well of giving up manufacturing.
As we saw with private industry’s rapid response to Covid-19, government moves much more slowly but a partnership was struck. Capitalism works and is faster than any government.
Price isn’t everything. What good is cheap when you can’t get it.
William Knab, of Hamburg, is a retired chemical industry executive and registered nurse.