Cuomo and Rubio: The Coronavirus Proves It’s Time to Bring Back Critical Manufacturing

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
A New Balance employee inspects face masks. The company is among the many American manufacturers that retooled in response to the coronavirus crisis. | Photo courtesy New Balance

The pandemic makes strange bedfellows.

It’s safe to say that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) aren’t usually on the same page politically.

Except on this.

Let’s start with Cuomo. Like him or not, there’s no denying that Cuomo has emerged as a national leader during the coronavirus crisis. His daily briefings on how his hard-hit state is managing the COVID-19 outbreak are regularly broadcast on the cable news networks, and goodness knows Cuomo isn’t afraid of a little press.

And the governor keeps coming back to an idea that our team has written quite a lot about recently: Why was the U.S. so unprepared to begin with, and why has it been so difficult to get the materials we need to respond?

Here’s Cuomo on Wednesday:

“This is madness, that we have to buy gowns and masks from China, and we’re wholly dependent on China for masks, gowns, gloves, ventilators, everything came back from China,” Cuomo said. “That all has to change. And look, it’s an opportunity for this state, other states too. But we have to be able to make this equipment here, and be able to turn up the volume when something like this happens.”

Cuomo later added: “The entire supply chain has to be brought back to this country, period.”

The governor isn’t alone in calling for bringing back manufacturing. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (R) penned an op-ed for The New York Times earlier this week in which he called for a “sensible industrial policy” in order to bring back “supply chains integral to our national interest – everything from basic medicines and equipment to vital rare-earth minerals and technologies of the future.” He wrote:

“Though rebuilding a more productive and pro-worker economy will take time, we can achieve it and ensure that America’s next economic chapter will owe its character to the same spirit of resiliency, solidarity and collective pursuit of the common good that our people are now displaying to the world.”

Cuomo and Rubio aren't alone, by the way. Polling shows that Americans, by and large, also support bringing back manufacturing from China.

So how do we get the job done? As AAM President Scott Paul explained in a recent New York Times op-ed of his own, it starts by enforcing our trade laws. China and other countries should not be allowed to cheat the system at the expense of American workers.

Meanwhile, companies that accept stimulus money from the government should be expected, when applicable, to bring manufacturing home, and devote resources to skills training to prepare their workforce.

Finally, we are past due for a major infrastructure investment package, which will create millions of new jobs and provide a huge boost to the economy. Making sure Buy America provisions apply will ensure that work happens in the United States, shoring up a big part of our manufacturing base while literally laying the groundwork for a better future.

We definitely can do this.

Remember that countless American manufacturers and workers have stepped up during this crisis. United Autoworkers members at Ford and General Motors are making equipment like ventilators, respirators, and face shields. Apparel makers big and small are switching gears to produce face masks, hospital gowns, and more.

But as American Giant CEO Bayard Winthrop, whose company was among the first to switch to making personal protective equipment, put it: “It’s crazy that a business that makes T-shirts and sweatshirts is having to pivot to make medical masks.”

It’s time to change that.