Manufacturing is integral to Biden's build back better plan
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In the final weeks of this year’s election, President-elect Biden said he “didn’t buy for a second that U.S. manufacturing is a thing of the past.” As chair for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and a Silicon Valley-based executive for a company bridging the worlds of heavy equipment and cutting-edge software and sensors, I completely concur. As we work together to navigate through the worst of the pandemic and reigniting our economy, policies that target U.S. manufacturing sector leadership must be core to the new administration’s plan to Build, Back, Better.

Many Americans have an outdated perception of the U.S. manufacturing sector. The last century’s prototypical image of a grimy industrial worker laboring in a highly regimented setting has been replaced by today’s high-tech manufacturing sector with workers enabled by immense computing power, robotics, artificial intelligence, enhanced reality visualization, and other technology tools. U.S. manufacturing has dramatically evolved and continues to transform.

Representing one of every eight manufacturing jobs in the U.S., equipment manufacturers are significant drivers of that transformation. Today, our industry manufactures modern tractors, harvesters, excavators, bulldozers, pavers, cranes, and other machines that are intelligent platforms connected to the cloud and accessing applications that increasingly utilize artificial intelligence and machine learning. For farmers who harvest our nation’s diverse crops to construction workers who build the roads that connect America, our industry’s technology allows them to achieve transformative improvements in productivity, worker safety, and environmental sustainability. For our industry’s 2.8 million men and women, building, back, better is embedded in their job descriptions.

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It is also apparent that President-elect Biden won the 2020 election with the support of manufacturing voters across the Midwest. There is no doubt that voters from our industry played a role in this year’s outcome. For example, in the three manufacturing-heavy states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, equipment manufacturers support over 402,000 good-paying jobs. That is a significant number in the context of the 140,000 votes separating the presidential contenders in those three states.

The outcome reflects the significant faith placed by manufacturing voters in the president-elect’s commitment to “make bold investments in American manufacturing, industry, and innovation.” If that promise is kept, equipment manufacturers can continue creating more good-paying jobs and better equip the U.S. economy to compete in a challenging global landscape. To do that, the Biden-Harris administration will need to collaborate on a bipartisan basis with the 117th Congress to pass the pro-manufacturing policies needed to enable a vigorous manufacturing sector.

That begins with policies that modernize U.S. infrastructure. Excelling in the 21st century global economy demands an intelligent infrastructure that includes roads and bridges which anticipate the emergence of autonomous vehicles, water management systems that protect the watershed and provide universal clean water, transportation systems that provide effective alternatives to the single passenger automobile, a robust electrical grid that enables alternative energy sources to be fully integrated, and broadband access to every American. A strong, imaginative approach to infrastructure development provides benefits across regions and demographic groups, many of which are currently underserved.

For example, strong rural communities that provide Americans with quality education, state-of-the-art infrastructure, greater certainty for ranchers and farmers, and family-sustaining jobs are critical to the long-term success of our industry. Biden administration policies should emphasize the revitalization of these communities by supporting the foundations that enable equipment and other manufacturers to flourish.

Ensuring our industry’s ability to continue to contribute $288 billion to the U.S. economy annually also requires responsible policies that enhance our competitiveness including strong support of free and fair-trade policies and agreements. While equipment manufacturers support efforts to combat unfair international trade practices, burdensome tariffs and regulations have stifled U.S. job creation and impaired our industry’s ability to compete globally. It is crucial for the president-elect to re-assert historical U.S. leadership and reverse the tariffs and other restrictions that are injuring both the U.S. manufacturing and agricultural sectors, while still holding those using unfair trade practices accountable.

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Finally, it is important to maintain and extend policies that work. This includes federal tax, fiscal and regulatory policies that promote foreign and domestic direct investment, U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, and domestic job creation. Increases in the corporate tax rate or the repeal of tax reform provisions would have consequences — potentially making equipment manufacturers less internationally competitive and resulting in less investment and fewer jobs.

Equipment manufacturers are ready to work with the president-elect to build, back better to help reignite our economy. But we need to prioritize policies that work for manufacturers. By doing so, we can work together to not only overcome the historic economic damage caused by COVID-19 and build a more resilient economy capable of rebuilding our nation.

Berglund is Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors for Trimble, and Chair for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM).