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Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Just when we thought that the saga of new made-in-China Oakland Bay Bridge couldn’t get any worse, we were proven wrong. New evidence suggests there were major flaws in the rationale for outsourcing the project to China—and estimates of the jobs this project is taking away from Americans and the pollution it’s contributing to the environment  have added insult to injury in this discouraging tale.

Though the New York Times originally cited American suppliers’ inability to perform work on such a large scale structure as the main reason behind the state of California’s decision to outsource the project to China, according to Foreign Policy’s, Clyde Prestowitz, this was not actually the case. “It turns out that the issue wasn't one of capability but of scheduling,” reports Prestowitz. “U.S. fabricators had the capacity and the capability to do the work but argued that the project would take more time than the Chinese were proposing in their bid.”

And so the state turned the project over to China, only to be subjected to one nightmare after another at the hands of their duplicitous overseas business partner. For one, the timeframe that the Chinese fabricators provided—the one that won them the expansive contract in the first—turned out to be completely unrealistic. According to Presotwitz:

“[The] Chinese have not been able to meet their own timetable, and the bridge is actually being built on the schedule originally proposed by the American fabricators. The first delivery of Chinese steel was more than a year late and the whole project is three years behind schedule and $5.2 billion over budget according to information provided by the National Steel Bridge Alliance…. So it looks like the Chinese low-balled their proposal in order to get the bid and then more than ate up the presumed savings by failing to meet their own timetable.”

Given China’s history of cheating to gain an advantage over American manufacturers, we’re not shocked that California fell victim to yet another scheme cooked up the behind the red curtain. What we are shocked about is that there hasn’t been more of a public backlash against what this decision has meant for state—namely the loss of thousands of potential manufacturing jobs in a state with an unemployment rate of 11.7%--2.5% higher than the national average:

“By proceeding with the project as it did, California exported more than 2,500 manufacturing jobs to China and then added insult to injury by spending taxpayer dollars to send 250 public and private workers to China to provide training. In effect, at a time of economic hardship and rising unemployment in the United States, the state of California provided funding and training to create jobs and make workers more competitive in China.”

In addition to racking up a colossal bill for the state of California, this project is creating a carbon footprint that completely defies the state’s reputation as a leader in environmental standards:

“The steel producers and fabricators in China don't even come close to meeting California's own green environmental standards… the bridge deal is shifting production from relatively green U.S. producers operating under California's tough environmental standards to brown Chinese producers whose work on the bridge is adding to the pollution of California air. In effect, the state is conniving to violate its own environmental standards in order to achieve savings that were never realistic and that have not only evaporated but become cost overruns.”

According to a A 2009 AAM report on China’s rapidly growing steel industry, China’s low standards and lax enforcement have not only contributed to global pollution, they have also enabled Chinese steel companies to enjoy unfair advantages over U.S. companies that operate under the strict pollution-control standards that keep our air safe. China derives great economic benefits from its failure to control pollution, giving it a significant advantage over its foreign competitors.

So there you have it—the latest installment in the story of California’s disastrous decision to outsource the construction of the Oakland bay bridge to Chinese contractors. We hope this serves as a cautionary to other states that are in the process of planning major infrastructure projects, and reiterates the importance of Keeping it Made in America.