Just last month, three Alabama plants announced plans to close — Goodyear in Gadsden and Honeywell and Monarch Windows and Doors, both in Anniston.
All spring, the United States has been scrambling to obtain personal protective equipment, hospital ventilators and other medical equipment, much of which is made overseas. And now there’s a looming possibility that the supply of drugs on which Americans’ lives and health depends — and the basic ingredients to make them — could be threatened by shortages and international trade issues.
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones has introduced federal legislation to address the loss of factories and jobs and also the shortage of equipment and drugs by creating a system of incentives for repurposing shuttered factories to make health care necessities.
“The coronavirus pandemic has caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs and has created a national health care crisis. It has also shined a spotlight on how dependent the United States is on other countries for the health care supplies that we need to fight this virus and to keep Americans safe,” Senator Jones said.
“By incentivizing companies to build medical equipment here at home, we can bring countless jobs back, breathe life into shuttered factories, and ensure that our communities have the crucial Covid-19 tests, masks, ventilators, and other supplies they need to protect themselves from this disease.”
Introduced in mid May, the bill calls for incentives for repurposing closed factories, credits for retraining displaced workers, increased education benefits for people entering health care jobs and investment in expanding broadband access.
Jones expects his bill to become part of the next congressional financial package and to win widespread support.
“The legislation we’ve passed so far is not economic stimulus, but economic savings — everything we could do to save lives and livelihoods,” Jones said. “The next round has to be economic stimulus.”
While it would take time to repurpose a factory, says Jones, “The virus is not going away any time soon, and the need for PPE and health care manufacturing is going to continue to grow.”
“I focus on masks and gowns and such,” Jones said, “but the bill is broad enough to cover prescription drugs that we depend on China for. The last thing we need to see is a problem with supply chains as tensions continue to grow, so that people in this country can’t get medications they desperately need.”
Linking incentives for factories, educational benefits and broadband support makes sense, Jones says.
“It makes more sense to have a more holistic approach rather than a rifle shot of incentives for a single purpose. In today’s world, access to broadband is about as critical as having electricity to run the plant.”
While Jones praised Alabama’s history of success using incentives to attract and keep industry, he said, “This is the type of program that, in partnership with federal government incentives, would help the state save some money and let the federal government bear the brunt of the cost, so the state can use what it has to help seal the deal.”
Earlier this spring, Jones publicly urged Gov. Kay Ivey to create a health care task force to deal with unprecedented issues arising from the Covid-19 virus. Since then, he said, he has been in contact with several members of the Alabama team including Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield and the governor’s chief of staff Jo Bonner.