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Opinion: We need leaders who support a vibrant manufacturing sector

Brad Boehler

One of the questions most important to Michigan voters is which candidates will do a better job growing the critical manufacturing sector of our economy in years ahead.

Supporting a vibrant manufacturing sector is an important topic. That’s because due to COVID-19’s historic impact on Michigan’s manufacturing sector, and a lack of pro-manufacturing policies in place to help manufacturers, the future of manufacturing in our state, and across the United States, is in jeopardy.

From cars to cranes and chippers, Michigan is known for being a manufacturing powerhouse. Manufacturing’s multiplier effect here – the impact an industry has on people and businesses outside the industry — is the largest in the nation with every $1 spent in manufacturing generating $1.89 in additional economic activity. Manufacturing makes up about 20% of Michigan’s gross state product and 14% of the state’s workforce — ranking fourth nationally.

A big reason for that is the equipment manufacturing industry, which builds the equipment that helps American farmers feed our nation; construction workers fix and modernize our roads, highways, bridges, and power providers keep the lights on in our homes. It’s a big reason why the federal government declared equipment manufacturers an essential business throughout this pandemic so that our nation can fight the pandemic and rebuild our economy.

From cars to cranes and chippers, Michigan is known for being a manufacturing powerhouse, Boehler writes.

My company, Morbark, LLC, is one of those manufacturers. After 60 years of growth, we now employ 600 men and women who build quality equipment like horizontal and tub grinders, tree and brush chippers, forestry mulchers, compact equipment and more, which our customers rely on across the state, the entire country, and the world. Overall, we’re one of many equipment manufacturers in Michigan who collectively support 117,000 good-paying jobs and contribute over $11 billion a year to the state’s economy.

However, manufacturing in Michigan, and across the nation, is at a crossroads. For example, despite the importance of manufacturing, the U.S. share of global manufacturing has declined by as much as 36% in the last 15 years.

We need more lawmakers in office who will work together to help to pass pro-manufacturing policies to keep manufacturing strong. For example, our nation’s infrastructure is in dire need of attention as the American Society of Civil Engineers now gives both Michigan and the United States a grade of D+. Elsewhere, our nation’s agricultural and rural communities are hurting. The U.S.-China trade war and weather extremes have further reduced production and profit for U.S. farmers, making it hard for them to make ends meet with farm bankruptcies increasing 24% from 2018 to 2019.

Adding to these challenges is a global pandemic that’s devastated many Michigan manufacturers. The nation’s weakened demand for new manufactured products, especially new cars and trucks, is a big reason why manufacturers in Michigan are hurting more than anywhere else.

The silver lining is that Michigan voters have a rare opportunity to correct course. No matter your party affiliation, it’s candidates’ platforms on issues like infrastructure, trade, and rural America that matter most at the end of the day. Michigan voters can make a difference. 

Brad Boehler is president and CEO of Morbark, LLC, and its affiliated brands Rayco Manufacturing, Denis Cimaf, and Boxer Equipment. Based in Winn, Morbark has been innovating and manufacturing durable, high-performance equipment for more than 60 years.