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Construction of Tennessee EV Battery Facility Highlights Promises and Challenges of Biden Administration Policies

BlueOval City, the electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturing facility under construction in Stanton, Tennessee, demonstrates the potential for the Biden administration’s economic policies to create good union jobs and promote development in regions of the country that have long been ignored.1 The project shows that the administration’s economic policies can work as planned, with public incentives encouraging major new investments by private companies that create good union jobs.

The project also highlights questions about long-term job quality once the facility is operational as well as who will be credited for the impact. The answers to these questions could affect the ultimate evaluation of the project and the policies that made it possible.

Anecdotal interviews recently conducted by the Center for American Progress found that construction workers at the site “love” their “life-changing” jobs.2 Working under a project labor agreement (PLA) that ensures union-scale wages and benefits and promotes apprenticeship helped workers go from financial precarity to economic stability—from paying bills “half this week and half the next week” to meeting their financial obligations fully and being able to afford a vacation and even buy a home.3

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  • Biden’s Manufacturing Boom Is Underway. But The Jobs Haven’t Followed Yet



    Jan 19, 2024 – Biden’s manufacturing boom is underway. But the jobs haven’t followed yet.
    The new manufacturing jobs tied to Biden’s investment plans are coming — but maybe not until after the election.

    President Joe Biden believes he’s got the U.S. on the verge of a boom time for American manufacturing.

    He just needs to convince voters to keep him in office long enough to see it through.

    In swing states and factory towns, Biden is making a resurgence in domestic manufacturing central to his reelection pitch. He’s highlighting a surge of investments across the nation as evidence that an economic agenda centered on reviving the country’s industrial core is just starting to pay off.

    But 10 months out from the election, those new factory projects remain in their early stages — and have yet to generate an anticipated wave of manufacturing jobs. And after a pandemic-era rebound, industry hiring overall has turned stagnant: Manufacturers added just 12,000 jobs in 2023 amid an extended business slowdown.

    The lull has threatened to complicate the White House’s depiction of an economy that’s entered a manufacturing renaissance, feeding fears that Biden is losing ground among voters in key battleground states — even as he advances policies aimed squarely at boosting their communities in the long run.

    “The messaging is challenging — people actually need to see the results for themselves,” said Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan, where recent polls show Biden trailing GOP frontrunner Donald Trump. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

    Biden is spending the first weeks of 2024 trying to make headway on that front, foreshadowing a campaign that will increasingly make the argument that his industrial strategy is poised to succeed where Trump and others before him failed.

    Enticed by a range of new subsidies and tax breaks, manufacturers have poured roughly $220 billion over the last 18 months into manufacturing construction on Biden’s watch. New factories will eventually make the car parts, computer chips and construction materials that the U.S. has long relied on foreign countries to provide. Read More

    A Factory in Maine Proves ‘Made in America’ Is Still Possible

    By Rachel Slade

    NYT Op-Ed, Jan. 5, 2024

    Growing up, my parents drove my brothers and me around in lumbering Fords and ungainly Oldsmobiles until one fateful day in the summer of 1980, when my dad showed up in a brand new, all-beige VW Rabbit. It was a completely foreign thing, something from the future, a compact — perish the thought — German automobile. Buying a European car was now OK, my dad made a point of telling us, because this one was made in the U.S.A.

    I inherited my father’s “made in the U.S.A.” credo, obsessively hunting for labels, flipping over plates and chairs and turning clothes inside out to find a country of origin. Which is how, over the ensuing decades, I became exquisitely aware that much of the stuff I bought was no longer made in the U.S.A. Everything from my Gap sweatshirts in the ’90s to my clunky desktop in the early aughts, and eventually to my refrigerator and dishwasher, was made elsewhere.

    What happened to manufacturing in America and the environmental and economic consequences of offshoring — companies sending their manufacturing abroad — is a story we think we know. The demise of American production seems inevitable, the result of the rise of globalization and free trade. But now we are learning that the precipitous decline was the result of a steady, concerted, decades-long effort among power brokers to wrest the economy from a worker-dependent model to one where skilled workers are expendable. Corporate executives sold free trade to policymakers as a way to lower consumer pricing, but the human and political costs of offshoring were high. Read More

    Ohio’s Rustbelt Turns Into A Magnet For Chip Fabs

    By Lauren Fedor
    Financial Times

    In Licking County, Ohio, massive red cranes dot the landscape and orange traffic signs warn motorists that trucks are entering the highway.

    It is here, about 25km north-east of the state capital, Columbus, that Intel, the semiconductor giant, is building two new chip factories. The $20bn investment has been touted by local government officials as the single biggest economic development project in the history of Ohio.

    The mega-site, spanning some 1,000 acres of predominantly former farmland, could accommodate eight chip factories, or fabs, with a total investment of as much as $100bn over the next decade. That would make it one of the largest semiconductor manufacturing facilities in the world.As stated in this article, you can browse your selection of available deals on smartphones and top brands and explore the cell phone service plans that best suit your needs.

    But, for now, the initial phase of the construction project, which is slated to be completed at the end of 2025, has become emblematic of the economic development that has supercharged growth in this corner of the country. Once considered part of America’s rustbelt, it is now known among enthusiastic investors as “Silicon Heartland”.

    It is also a hallmark of the White House’s industrial strategy to incentivise high-tech manufacturing in the US, and a clear example of both the opportunities and challenges posed by such large-scale investments. Read More

    Biden’s industrial policy is missing a key ingredient: Allies

    Photo: President Biden speaks at the North America’s Building Trades Unions National Legislative Conference in Washington on April 25. (Andrew Harnik/AP, File)

    Top Biden administration officials insist it’s not decoupling, which would be a broad retreat from trade. We agree that would be a mistake. A better approach is to deepen trade ties with our allies and like-minded nations, a strategy that might be called maximal friend-shoring.

    Industrial Policy Can’t Ignore Geography

    Industrial policy was once so out of fashion that it was jokingly called “the policy that shall not be named.”
    Now it’s back in a big way. On issues ranging from clean energy to semiconductors to Covid-19, governments are trying to improve the performance of key business sectors. Can they manage to do so without subverting competition and subsidizing special interests?

    This article is part of ProMarket‘s series on industrial policy. Stay tuned as we publish an article each week this quarter on the topic.

    By now, it’s clear that “Bidenomics” centers heavily on what the White House calls a “modern American industrial strategy.” What’s less recognized, however, is another feature of the new economic push: Its strong geographic orientation.

    Most broadly, the big spending bills of the last Congress—the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP), the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) — embody a national pivot.

    The U.S. has recommitted to a broad public investment agenda, after decades of vacillation between “laissez-faire” economics at some times, and redistributive efforts at others. The goal: Raise the productive capacity of the U.S. economy and at the same time promote greater inclusion, a higher standard of living, and reduced carbon emissions.

    And yet, there is more to the new line of action.  Specifically, key elements of the new approach are strongly place-based.

    That is, these elements propose to achieve broader national goals through deliberate and direct investments into specific U.S. places and regions. In this vein, the Brookings Institution counts some 19 explicitly place-based industrial policy programs, adding up to some $80 billion of authorized spending, distributed across three of the four pieces of legislation (ARP, IIJA, and CHIPS and Science). Billions more in cleantech subsidies and awards from the IRA for green growth—while not explicitly place-targeted–will also benefit the nation as a whole by benefiting particular places such as the emerging “battery belt.”

    Which is why the new “place-based industrial strategy” merits serious consideration as a compelling approach to economic development—especially for a nation with deep regional divides and large pools of underutilized talent and capacity.  Broad national programs, or universal stances like laissez-faire, have their value, but they often lack the focus to confront entrenched local market failures. Place-based strategies, however, may be able to engage more directly and efficiently with the roots of problems and the needs of individuals and firms in local communities. In that fashion, the new policies seek to boost the national economy by investing to help local economies, whether by supporting regional innovation clusters or financing creative workforce partnerships. In sum, “place-based” industrial strategies very much merit the attention they are beginning to receive. Read More

    Biden’s Clean Energy Factory Jobs May Elude U.S. Union Workers

    Employees work on solar panels at the QCells solar manufacturing factory in Dalton

    Biden’s Clean Energy Factory Jobs May Elude U.S. Union Workers


    By Nichola Groom
    Reuters via Yahoo News

    March 6, 2023 – (Reuters) – President Joe Biden has pledged that fighting climate change will deliver millions of middle-class jobs with good wages to Americans with union membership cards.

    But in the six months since passage of Biden’s signature climate change law, a large majority of the $50 billion of announced investments in domestic manufacturing to support the clean energy transition has been in states with laws that make it harder for workers to unionize, according to a Reuters analysis of corporate and state announcements.


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    Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) includes tax credits for businesses that produce clean energy components in the United States, and provides higher credits for developers of renewable energy projects if they use products made domestically.

    Of the more than 50 EV battery, solar panel and other factories announced since passage of the Act in August, 83% are located in so-called right to work states, which bar companies from requiring workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment, according to a Reuters review of company announcements.

    Those facilities represent $43.5 billion in investment, or 88% of the total amount companies have said they will invest.

    Reuters came up with the list of projects by crosschecking data compiled by researcher Jack Conness with official company announcements and information on right to work states.

    The situation marks a test for Biden’s administration, which is selling its vision of a decarbonized America by vowing that the clean energy jobs will be as good as the ones eventually lost at oil refineries and coal mines – workplaces that are attractive to many workers because of their reputation for high unionization rates, good pay and benefits.

    Right to work laws allow employees to work in union-represented workplaces and be covered by collective bargaining agreements without joining a union or paying dues.

    There are 27 states that have such laws. Twenty of those states voted for Donald Trump in 2020. Supporters say the laws boost job creation and protect employees’ rights to choose whether or not to join a union.

    However, right-to-work laws are associated with both lower unionization rates and wages, according to a 2020 study by Georgia Tech researchers who analyzed thousands of collective bargaining agreements struck over 18 years in five states.

    Last month, Biden visited a union training center in Deforest, Wisconsin, which passed a right to work law in 2015. A purple banner emblazoned with “Union Strong” hung from a railing. American products, he vowed, would be made with union labor.

    “Not ‘labor.’ Union labor. I mean it,” he said.

    A White House official noted that just six months have passed since the IRA was signed into law, and investments in that time represent a fraction of what will ultimately stem from Biden’s economic agenda. Many of the jobs created will be union jobs, the official added.


    The IRA is broadly viewed as a historic win for labor standards because builders of energy-generating projects like solar and wind farms must pay construction workers prevailing wages and hire apprentices to capture the full value of the law’s tax credits.

    But the same is not true for the subsidies created for companies building new U.S. factories that will make everything from EV batteries to solar panels – which will provide jobs long after construction has ended.

    A provision that would have created a $4,500 tax credit for union-made vehicles, for example, was stripped out of the legislation by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia as part of a deal to win his support. Manchin’s right to work state has a non-unionized Toyota Motor Corp plant that employs 2,000 people, and his vote was crucial to passing the bill in the Senate.

    Two project siting experts said right to work policies are among the criteria companies consider when weighing where to do business.

    “There’s a perception in C-suite that it is important,” Josh Bays, a senior partner at Dallas-based location advisory firm Site Selection Group. “And because of that it does become a factor in site selection.”

    But they add other factors play a huge role in siting decisions, including low power prices, access to highways and ports and cheap and available land.

    Three large manufacturers contacted by Reuters – Toyota, South Korean EV maker Hyundai Motor Co and solar panel producer Hanwha Qcells – did not comment directly on whether right to work laws were a consideration. They account for about $11 billion of the projects announced so far.

    Hyundai and Hanwha Qcells said they chose Georgia for their manufacturing projects because of the state’s access to transportation, skilled labor and proximity to suppliers.


    Some unions are concerned about the location of the first wave of investments in states like Georgia and South Carolina, where union membership among wage and salaried workers is at 4.4% and 1.7%, respectively.

    The national average hit 10.1% last year, an all-time low, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union membership peaked at about a third of the workforce in the mid-1950s and has steadily declined due to deregulation, foreign competition and improved worker benefits among non-union employers.

    “It’s not a favorable environment, but we can still organize,” Samantha Smith, senior adviser for clean energy jobs at the AFL-CIO, said in an interview.

    Georgia has attracted nearly $12 billion in announced clean energy manufacturing investment since passage of the IRA – more than any other state – including from Hyundai and Hanwha Qcells.

    “Part of the equation across the South that is so attractive for this rebirth of manufacturing is that there is a low unionization rate,” Pat Wilson, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said in an interview.

    Union officials pointed to a surge in attention-grabbing organizing efforts at places like Amazon warehouses, Starbucks coffee shops and Apple retail stores as evidence of their clout.

    The United Steelworkers said they logged a win in a right to work state last month in Anniston, Alabama, where 60 workers, or 98% of the eligible workforce, at New Flyer Industries unit Carfair Composites Inc, which makes fiberglass components for hybrid and electric buses, voted to join the union.

    But labor representatives acknowledge that they are spread thin, and organizing efforts may be better spent elsewhere.

    Jeremy Hendricks, political director of the Southwest Laborers District Council, noted, for instance, that “it’s going to be a heck of a battle” to organize Tesla Inc’s factory in Texas, a right to work state, given the company’s anti-union stance.

    Tesla did not reply to a request for comment.

    Tesla in January applied for a major expansion of its Texas factory with an investment totaling $775.7 million, according to government filings. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has criticized California’s regulations and taxes and moved large parts of the company’s manufacturing operations out of its home state.

    In Liberty, North Carolina, Toyota’s $2.5 billion expansion of its EV battery plant is being built with both union and non-union labor after the Japanese automaker declined to enter into a project labor agreement that would have given all those jobs to unions, according to the local Ironworkers union.

    Toyota spokesperson Emily Wilemon-Holland said it is up to employees to decide if they want to join a union.

    The Ironworkers hope to be hired for some of the permanent jobs at the plant, but said it is difficult to compete with lower-wage workers.

    “It’s unfortunate that we’ve got to fight for it,” said Dan Segovia, business manager for Ironworkers Local 848 in South Carolina.

    North Carolina, a right to work state, has the second-lowest rate of union membership among states at 2.8%.

    Some union representatives said they are looking to the nascent offshore wind industry for jobs.

    Companies including Denmark’s Orsted have struck agreements with unions for planned projects, and the federal government has encouraged those deals by offering developers who work with unions a break on their lease payments.

    Manufacturing facilities for huge offshore wind turbines and other equipment are expected to follow suit, and unions have their eyes on those jobs too.

    “That’s a tougher nut to crack,” Rick Levy, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, said in an interview. “But we’ve got the nutcracker out.”

    (Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Claudia Parsons)