This Election Can Rebuild — or Wreck — The Arsenal of Democracy

Donald F. Schenk

Brig. Gen., US Army (Retired)

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photo credit: Max Pixel

Since World War II, southeast Michigan has been America’s Arsenal of Democracy. As Michiganders, we are justifiably proud to make this claim because we are the nation’s engine for defense innovation, powering the future of US military strength.

I should know — as a retired US Army Brigadier General with extensive first-hand experience in both the operational and business sides of the Army and Marine Corps, and as a 30-year resident of Michigan with close ties to those working in the defense and security sectors of our nation — I see firsthand, every day, how Michigan’s abundant talent and its vast defense engineering and manufacturing infrastructure help the nation’s military keep its decisive edge.

Maintaining this edge means good-paying jobs — but it is about more than just economic prosperity. It’s about growing our local communities, preserving the future of our children, and ensuring our national security. That’s why we need smart policies and commitment to real actions that promote manufacturing jobs, and, in particular, innovative jobs in cutting-edge defense industries in southeast Michigan.

The sad truth is, that is not what we have coming from the White House. The President’s policies have held Michigan’s economy back and prevented us from harnessing the talent of Michigan’s workers who power defense innovation. While the President claims that we in Michigan “owe him” votes for factories, I prefer to vote based on facts. And here they are:

Job Numbers — While Trump likes to claim that he “saved the auto sector,” that’s simply not true. Total auto manufacturing jobs have actually fallen under his watch — all told, the sector employed 2,400 fewer people in February — before the onset of the pandemic — compared to Inauguration Day in 2017. This matches the overall trend for manufacturing jobs, which were plateauing even before Covid-19 came into the picture.

Thanks to Trump’s disastrous handling of the pandemic, Michigan lost some 67,000 jobs when comparing July 2020 to July 2019.

Innovation — Michigan’s innovation-led economy depends on its research universities, and academics and immigrants provide the brain power for innovation in robotics, UAVs, and advanced composite materials that ultimately go to protect our military and us. Trump’s disastrous immigration policies have choked off a critical talent pipeline and hurt Michigan’s ability to innovate.

Already straining to attract enough talent, our defense engineering and industrial base under Trump has gotten worse — foreign student enrollments in Midwestern research universities, including those in Michigan, have declined by 10% overall. This contributes nearly $650 million dollars to our staggering national debt, stymieing innovation, and ultimately leaving us with a less protected military and a less secure America.

Buy American — While Trump claims to prioritize American manufacturing, his “Buy American” initiatives have gone nowhere. His tax cuts have gone to companies that continue to offshore American jobs to China. In 2019, direct federal procurement of foreign-made products amounted to $7.8 billion, or 3.6% of the total spent. I’ve seen this dynamic play out in the defense sector with my own eyes.

In 2018, the Department of Defense (DOD) spent $3 billion on foreign construction contracts. At the same time, the Department spent nearly $300 million on foreign engines and vehicles. If they were made here, these purchases could have put a lot of Michiganders to work.

As one of the hundreds of national security leaders who signed a recent letter in support of Joe Biden’s leadership, I feel it’s important for those of us in the business and defense community to understand what support for Joe Biden means.

Joe Biden’s economic plan delivers. Unveiled in September in Warren, MI, his plan is a superhighway to revitalize American — and Michigan — manufacturing and reinforces the innovative edge our warfighting sons and daughters need.

Biden’s “Made in America” plan offers tax incentives for companies that re-shore jobs (and penalties for those who off-shore), tightens requirements for domestic content in American vehicles, and commits a record $400 billion for additional federal purchases of American manufactured products.

Crucially for the defense sector, Biden’s plan also includes a $300 billion innovation investment in R&D and breakthrough technologies, as well as a commitment to bring critical technology supply chains back to the US, so we aren’t dependent on China or other countries to supply our critical technologies.

In 2016, Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to rebuild America’s manufacturing sector. Four years have shown that he does not have what it takes to lead in this critical area.

To rebuild the Arsenal of Democracy and ensure American defense innovation survives into the next century, I believe we must vote for a competent and committed leader. A man of character — Joe Biden.

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