WASHINGTON, D.C. — There is growing support in Congress and the White House to launch a science and technology arms race to counter China’s growing economic and political clout.
“We used to invest more in research and development than any country in the world and China was number nine,” said Pres. Joe Biden during a speech at a manufacturing plant in Michigan this week. “We now are number eight and China is number one. [We] can’t let that be sustained.”
Adding teeth to those words, the president is backing a $100 billion R&D blitz through The Endless Frontier Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin. It would support research into emerging technologies, encourage advanced manufacturing and create ten regional tech hubs. House co-sponsor, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, says the legislation won bipartisan support after the pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in US supply-chains.
“What I've concluded is that in order to beat or outcompete the Chinese Communist Party, we're gonna have to bring some of that manufacturing back home, and invest more in research and development to really win the race for the technologies of the future that are really going to matter,” said Rep. Gallagher.
Investments in technology historically have benefitted places like California and New York. Gallagher says he’s fighting to include places like Wisconsin as well.
“It's deliberately designed to make sure that those federal resources are more evenly distributed across the United States, and not just centered and clustered on the west coast and on the east coast,” he said.
But have Wisconsinites heard this story before? In 2018, President Donald Trump and former Gov. Scott Walker boasted that an expansion into Northeast Wisconsin by Taiwanese electronics company Foxconn would ignite a manufacturing boom. Walker approved nearly three billion in subsidies.
Three years later, that project and the promise of thousands of jobs has fizzled.
“There was this idea that Racine was going to become the next Silicon Valley,” said Steven Deller, UW-Madison Economic Policy Professor. “That was a bit of an oversell.”
Prof. Deller says the drastically scaled down Foxconn plan reflects changes to the manufacturing industry. On Congress’s proposed hefty investment, he believes there is hope.
“I think [there] is, but we've got to be able to make sure that the there's a bridge between those that are doing the research and development in the innovation of new processes and new techniques and the ability of get those innovations into the hands of other manufacturers themselves,” he said.
The bill easily cleared a procedural hurdle on Monday, indicating widespread support. The Senate is expected to debate the measure for a couple of weeks before a final vote.