Opinion: Trump needs to invest in auto industry, not just farmers

Mary Buchzeiger
Buchzeiger writes: "It seems to me we have two choices. Reverse the president’s policies and avoid any further unintended consequences. Or reinvest broadly in every U.S. industry."

When President Trump promised $12 billion in emergency relief to support farmers hurt by his trade war, one Republican senator asked how he could single out the agriculture sector when many other industries stand to lose in the tariff tumult. “Where do you draw the line?”

The answer to Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s question is you shouldn’t. If the president defines a successful outcome of the tariff battle as strengthening our US manufacturing base, then he will need to invest as well in the energy and manufacturing sectors – starting with the U.S. auto industry. Farmers aren’t the only ones who need help.

I am the CEO of Lucerne International, an automotive supplier in Metro Detroit that won an exemption from the president’s first round of tariffs. But victory was fleeting. My company once again faces extinction due to later rounds of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, retaliatory tariffs by foreign companies and Trump’s pledge to impose tariffs on foreign-made automobiles and automotive components.

I am not alone. These presidential policies threaten to cripple the U.S. auto industry that had rebounded from the 2008 recession and was roaring to life when Trump took office.

So here is an idea from a business leader who sympathizes with the president’s desire to ease the nation’s trade imbalance: Mr. President, please invest your tariff tax money in the U.S. auto industry.

I’m not talking about another bailout.

What I propose is a massive federal investment in plants, equipment, job training, and research and development – all directed at projects that would create manufacturing jobs in the United States.

After all, that’s the president’s goal – to revitalize domestic manufacturing. I wish I could help him understand that his trade polices not only imperil U.S. businesses and jobs, but ironically, they also make it harder for companies like mine to make things in America.

With Lucerne rapidly growing the last couple of years, we’ve made plans to open a manufacturing plant locally to lower our reliance on Asian imports and to help my hometown reinvent itself. But now those plans are in jeopardy because my entire company is in jeopardy.

With $12 billion, we could kickstart training a modern workforce, build technologically advanced plants, and invest in research and development that will ensure that the United States wins the mobility revolution around autonomous vehicles and electrification.

I’m baffled by the games in Washington. I read that the president wants to move forward with tariffs on foreign-made automobiles despite warnings from GOP leaders and automotive executives. I see tweets from the president denouncing those “weak politicians” and promising aid to farmers who are getting “ripped off.” I hear farmers calling on Trump to end the trade war; they’d take peace over payouts.

“What farmers in Iowa and throughout rural America need in the long term are markets and opportunity,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, “not government handouts.”

It seems to me we have two choices. Reverse the president’s policies and avoid any further unintended consequences. Or reinvest broadly in every U.S. industry.

I’m with the farmers. Let’s make peace.

Mary Buchzeiger is CEO of Lucerne International, an auto supplier in Auburn Hills.