Lehigh Valley Provides a Meaningful Setting for President Biden’s Message on Bolstering U.S. Manufacturing
By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on July 28, 2021
President Joe Biden kicked off his “Made in America” initiative Wednesday in Lehigh Valley where he toured the assembly plant at Mack Trucks, a storied manufacturer that exemplifies the country’s industrial might.
Surrounded by truck cabs and Old Glory, Biden chose the Lehigh Valley, with one of the strongest manufacturing economies in the Northeast, to call for changes he believes will increase American-made components in federal purchases and support the domestic production of goods critical to national and economic security. The initiative would make the most robust changes to the Buy American Act in 70 years, he said.
“It’s very appropriate the president came to Lehigh Valley to deliver his Made in America message,” said Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) President & CEO Don Cunningham, who attended the visit. “Not only does the region have a long and rich history of manufacturing, but it also remains the cornerstone of our economy. Manufacturing is in the region’s DNA with about 700 manufacturers and 33,000 workers making everything from guitars to medical devices to Mack Trucks. The Lehigh Valley proves every day that America still makes things.”
Among the initiatives Biden called for Wednesday would help Lehigh Valley manufacturers. Biden said new legislation would lead to American-made semiconductor chips, a key component in Mack Trucks that was in short supply because of pandemic-related disruptions. He called for climate-driven innovations, like electric vehicles, and pointed to Mack Trucks’ work with zero-emission garbage trucks. The plan would increase the amount of American-made components in products purchased by the federal government.
Biden also said his plan would help buy products from companies like OraSure Technologies, a Bethlehem-based employer that produces a rapid COVID-19 test. He cited OraSure as an example of the “homegrown capacity” the nation is developing “to respond to this pandemic and help prepare for the next one.”
“Our manufacturing future, our economic future, our solutions to the climate crisis are all going to be made in America, creating good jobs,” Biden told the crowd during his 30-minute speech. “That’s what it means to build back better. We come out of this economic crisis, the worst since the Depression, stronger than when we went in.”
Biden delivered his message in Lehigh Valley, ranked among the busiest industrial markets in the country because of its location in the Northeast market and talent supply. From Suncup Juice to Sharp Packaging, industrial users in 2020 added 3.3 million square feet of inventory in Lehigh and Northampton counties, and another 6.5 million square feet were under construction at the end of the second quarter this year.
And more prospects are in the pipeline, according to LVEDC. Twenty-one of the 30 industrial prospects considering moving to or expanding in the Lehigh Valley are manufacturers.
Lehigh and Northampton counties tout about 700 manufacturers that employ a tenth of the region’s work force. Before the pandemic, the Lehigh Valley added 5,000 manufacturing jobs in five years. The metro region that includes Lehigh Valley produced a $7.1 billion output, making it the 52nd largest manufacturing economy in the nation.
Mack Trucks has been a proud part of that manufacturing story for more than a century. Mack was launched in 1900 with the production of the first bus in New York City and relocated to Lehigh Valley five years later. The company made the machines that drove American history. The company helped win both world war with the production of military vehicles, earning the name Bulldog and inspiring its celebrated symbol. Mack Trucks were used to build American icons including the Hoover Dam and Empire State Building.
The company expanded in Lehigh Valley in 1975 when it opened an engineering, development and test center at a 65-acre assembly plant in Lower Macungie Township and completed last year an $84 million project that included equipment and improvements, including the insourcing of chassis assembly, and a 300,000-square-foot addition at its Lehigh Valley facility.
Mack Trucks, which was purchased in 2000 by Volvo, now employs more than 2,500 people in the region and plans to hire 400 more this year. The company sells and services trucks to 30 countries, and every heavy-duty class 8 Mack truck built for the North American market is made in Lehigh Valley.
There are more than 1,500 Mack trucks in the federal fleet, used by both military and civilian agencies. In June, Mack Defense, a company subsidiary, invested $6.5 million in a dedicated production line in south Allentown.
Mack Truck President Martin Weissburg and Vice President and General manager of LVO Gunnar Brunius said in a release they were honored to host the president, especially as the company celebrates its 121st anniversary.
“President Biden’s visit to Mack Trucks spotlights the importance of manufacturing and good-paying jobs to the U.S. economy, and we are pleased to have hosted him at our facility,” Brunius said.
Before making his public remarks, Biden met with Mack Trucks employees, toured the facility and learned about Mack’s assembly process, supply chain and commitment to battery-electric vehicles including its first fully electric Class 8 truck, according to Mack Trucks.
Biden said he would like to work on “electrifying” the federal fleet of 600,000 vehicles, creating a market in the field and good-paying jobs. He pointed to the innovations that Mack Trucks is making its first fully electric vehicle, a zero-emissions refuse truck called the Mack LR Electric.
“Who would have thought 20 years ago that you would be making an electric garbage trucks here…” Biden told the crowd. “Hardworking Americans are the ones who are going to make it happen. We got to invest in you. You are the most productive work force in the world here. Given half the chance, there’s not a single thing you can’t do.”
He also said he proposed a rule that would close the loophole on federal procurements under the “Buy America” program. The threshold of American-made components in products bought with taxpayer dollars would be gradually raised from 55% to 75%, encouraging new U.S. factories.
Biden’s stop in Lehigh Valley was his first visit since taking office in January. His predecessor, Donald Trump, came in May 2020 to tour the Upper Macungie Township facility of Owens & Minor, a leading medical wholesaler that delivered millions of pieces of critical personal protective equipment to health care workers early in the pandemic.
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