President Joe Biden stumped for his infrastructure plan at one of the Lehigh Valley’s signature manufacturing companies – Mack Trucks, — telling more than 100 workers, dignitaries and residents that it will create good-paying jobs for American workers like them.
He lauded Mack, United Auto Workers Local 677 and the Lehigh Valley for their efforts to grow American manufacturing.
Drawing cheers from the crowd, Biden said unions built the middle class and he is a champion for them. Since taking office, Biden told the crowd, the U.S. has gained 600,000 jobs a month, each month. “That is the fastest growing (job growth) on record,” he said. “We have laid the foundation for a long-term boom, not just short-term growth.
“When I put my hand on that Bible, I made a commitment to turn the tides to enable people to earn a living and take care of their parents,” he said, adding the last administration grew big business and enabled corporations to pay less taxes each year. “Given half chance, the American people have never, never, never ever let this country down.”
The American Jobs Plan that Biden is pushing, will create millions of family sustaining jobs, rebuild the country’s infrastructure and position the United States to out-compete China, according the White House fact sheet. A bipartisan agreement on the bill was reached by the Senate committee, setting the stage for it to advance to the full Senate.
Martin Weissburg, president of Mack, said Biden’s message of building and strengthening American manufacturing and building an employee base aligns with what Mack is doing in the Lehigh Valley. “Right now, we have open positions we are recruiting for. We will add up to 400 people” to the already 2,500 person workforce.
Carlo Vet, a final repair technician for Mack, who was chosen to introduce Biden, said Mack employees “have a sense of pride when they see a Mack truck on the road. We were part of making that.
“Thank you Mr. President for doing all you can to start building more things in this country,” the 22-year employee and union member said.
Walt Smith, president of UAW Local 677, said, ‘The union and the company have been working really hard to grow the company.” In his 44 years at Mack, he said today was the highlight of his career.
Don Cunningham, president of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. said while Mack is an internationally known brand, “the Lehigh Valley is a manufacturing center. Manufacturing is our second biggest sector so for him to choose the Lehigh Valley to deliver his message shows higher levels of people recognize us.”
Not everyone extended a welcome to Biden, about 100 protesters stood across Route 100 from the plant with signs that read, “Biden is not our president’ and “Biden did not win.”
The American Jobs Plan includes fixing highways, rebuilding bridges, upgrading ports, airports and transit systems; delivering clean water, renewing the electric grid and extending high-speed broadband to every American; modernizing schools and child care facilities; upgrading veteran’s hospitals and federal buildings; creating jobs and raising wages and benefits for essential home care workers; revitalizing manufacturing, securing U.S. supply chains; and training Americans for jobs of the future as well as creating good-quality jobs that pay a prevailing wage while ensuring workers have a right to organize, join a union, and bargain collectively with their employers.
Lehigh University has been selected among 32 universities, part of a $60 million investment, to help local manufacturers improve their energy efficiency. The Department of Energy Industrial Assessment Centers program offers no-cost energy efficiency recommendations to small and medium-sized manufacturers and wastewater treatment facilities. It also trains the next generation of energy-engineering professionals, according to a Lehigh University press release.
Part of Biden’s American Jobs Plan, he said is to secure critical supply chains so companies that manufacture here can get the parts they need here, alleviating the shortages the country has seen over the past year. “To sum it up in two words, ‘Buy American’,” he said.
“The people that said we shouldn’t rescue the auto industry are the same ones that don’t buy American,” Biden said. “The strength is here, right here in folks like you.”
American power, he said, is not military power, it is the people. “That’s why people follow us.”
Biden spoke to the shortage of PPE’s and ventilators during the pandemic. Having to rely on things made oversees is not acceptable, he said. “I know a lot of you stepped up to make (PPEs),” he said. “We need to amp up our critical supply chains so we never run short again.”
He pointed to $50 billion being allotted to bring companies to the U.S. to build electronic chips. “It’s bipartisan,” he said. The goal is to have countries like South Korea and Taiwan open facilities in the U.S. to make computer chips. “They would be hiring American workers.”
Weissburg said the strong economy and the need to transport goods has brought demand for trucks. As with the entire automotive industry, some materials are in short supply, making it difficult to meet the demands. Building up the critical supply chain, he said, would help solve the problem.
Lehigh Valley has about 700 manufacturing centers and many are small businesses, according the Census’ Business Patterns Survey. More than half of those establishments, 415, employed fewer than 20 employees. Overall, about 33,000 valley residents work in manufacturing making up 10% of the region’s workforce. Employment in the industry has grown 1% faster than the national average and the average annual wage is $1,000 more. The Lehigh Valley added 5,000 manufacturing jobs in the five years preceding the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Economic Development Corp. statistics.
Lehigh Valley had an economic output of $7.1 billion in 2019, making it the 52nd largest manufacturing economy in the nation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.