A Return to Making Things Here

There was a recent flurry of press coverage concerning activity at the Micron plant in Manassas, Virginia. US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo met with the company’s chief executive officer, Sanjay Mehrotra. She was joined with two key lawmakers in a debate about funding for electronic semiconductors (chips) manufacturing and American competitiveness. Yes, we are finally going to use taxpayer money to create more jobs in America.

Most of the chips we use in our technologies come from Asia. According to Bloomberg news, “Semiconductor manufacturers have pushed the U.S. to create incentives through grants and tax credits to help spur production in America. Congress is debating legislation to fund semiconductor research and development and may include it in a broader China bill in the coming months.”

President Biden is smartly pushing modern-future technologies rather than trying to prop up the old ways of doing things, you know, like burning coal to produce electricity. Just look at what happened in Texas over the winter. The Hightower Lowdown newsletter pointed out that Governor Greg Abbott has received more than $26 million in campaign contributions from the companies that didn’t prepare for the future and caused a power outage that killed 111 people and cost the state $130 billion in damages. If proper maintenance and management of our energy girds are not a paramount responsibility of our leaders, then what the hell is?

We also need to find water, cleanly process it and then pump it out to our citizens. Right now, we have hundreds of thousands of dangerous lead pipelines in every state. Since Jimmy Carter was president, federal funding for water systems in America has dropped by 77%. The Flint, Michigan water crisis is only the tip of the iceberg. U.S. water systems have been rotting away for more than 50 years. If we cannot produce the most important product in this country — Water — then we are incompetent.

Natural Quartz

But let’s get back to chips. It’s not that we couldn’t design and manufacture semiconductors in our country, we just found is easier and cheaper to source them from Taiwan. To be clear, it will take years to beef up our plants and produce the volume of chips that our industries demand. The good news is we have the Spruce Pine Mining District, a swath of the valley to the North Toe River in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northwestern North Carolina. Located there is the largest cache of “Spruce Pine” ever found on Earth. It’s the purest natural quartz — a species of pristine sand — and this ultra‑elite deposit of silicon dioxide particles plays a key role in the manufacturing of computer chips. The Spruce Pine area is mined for its mica, kaolin, quartz and feldspar. So, you see, we already have the natural resources. Now all we need is plants, highly skilled workers and money.

Back in the day, we let the steel mills move out of the country and we closed many manufacturing plants because we could import lower priced goods manufactured elsewhere. Having fewer American employees was considered “good business,” because it allowed us to compete more effectively. However, I’m almost ready to say it was anti-American not forcing offshore manufacturers to pay higher import taxes on their goods. Many of those companies paid little or no taxes, and now are we going to offer federal funds to these same companies to make them more productive? The Obama administration tried that with solar panel manufacturers, some of which turned out to be scams and cons.

We need to understand the competitive landscape as it pertains to the U.S. economy, but it’s getting harder to discern exactly what is happening. Take digital currency, for example. It stores billions of dollars which cannot be traced or investigated, and with all the loopholes in our tax laws monetary incentives will continue landing in the bank accounts of donors and political operatives. Despite that, we should at least try to make improvements.

We are the leaders in technologies and software, yet we always bring in players from other countries to help us build our products, and that makes us vulnerable. Even with the best security in place, some of our intellectual property ends up in the minds and hands of other countries. In addition, smart developers in foreign lands have the will and time to reverse engineer our concepts and devices. The best way around this challenge is continually improving and upgrading our products. It’s harder to hit a moving target.

We should no longer be concerned about blue and white collar workers. Think about the WeatherTech company, 100% owned by its founder and CEO David MacNeil. In 1989, Mr. MacNeil said he was dissatisfied with the quality of existing automotive floor mats and started a company out of his home in Clarendon Hills, IL. WeatherTech began by importing the mats directly from England, but that changed with the introduction of digitization and CAD- CAM technologies. Now, all the mats are made in Illinois. Made in the U.S.A.

Can we make smart phones in America? Well, we could, but the path is scattered with the carcasses of many companies that tried to make flatscreen TVs, only to fade away because of costs. Can we make steel in America? Sure, but the investors would probably want to see a unique market. We make cars and trucks here and we probably always will, although with each new robot and automation breakthrough fewer workers are needed.

Tesla manufactures 100% of their cars in this country. The Tesla factory in Fremont, California is one of the world’s most advanced automotive plants, with 5.3 million square feet of manufacturing and office space on 370 acres of land. Currently 10,000 people work in Tesla’s Fremont plant. You may not like Elon Musk, but he’s done more for American manufacturing that anyone. Yeah, an immigrant from Pretoria, South Africa seems to have better vision than many U.S. titans.

A new business has to start out with a marketing plan, but companies like Micron that have been around for more than 40 years understand their markets. Micron made their money by producing computer components such as random-access memory, flash memory, and USB flash drives. They were never a wafer chip producer per se, but they understand the tech. However, if we try to up-covert a company like Micron, or ask Kodak to make chemicals for vaccines, we might have a flaw in our thinking. Maybe it’s time we fund NEW companies that aren’t burdened with debt, legacy equipment or outdated thinking. It always takes longer to convert an older company rather than creating a new one. Ask China. That’s how they do it.


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