Jones pushing for state to be nation’s ‘healthcare manufacturing hub’

Published 10:52 am Wednesday, June 3, 2020

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-AL, has become the leading voice in Congress calling for America to invest in the manufacturing of healthcare equipment and he has ambitions of making Alabama its “healthcare manufacturing hub” – in April, Jones urged Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to establish a healthcare manufacturing task force to look into ways the state could move to the forefront of the industry and just last week he introduced the Build Health Care Equipment in America Act, which would provide a bevy of incentives to ramp up investment in the industry.

“It became pretty clear early on in this health crisis that we had a shortage of [personal protective equipment (PPE)] – masks, gowns and those kinds of things,” Jones said. “So much of that manufacturing is overseas, we were too dependent on foreign countries and foreign manufacturers for an essential part of fighting this pandemic.”

Jones noted that a “really tough situation” ensued as leaders in all 50 states began jockeying for a limited stockpile of healthcare equipment, which was quickly depleted within weeks of the coronavirus pandemic’s attack on the nation.

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For Jones, manufacturing healthcare equipment in the U.S. would have a myriad of benefits, including ending the country’s reliance on such necessary equipment, replenishing national equipment stockpiles and launching a new industry with the capability of restarting old factories and employing a workforce now desperate for opportunities.

“I don’t think it will ever be an industry that will leave this country,” Jones said, noting that such equipment will continue to be needed as Americans adjust to a “new normal” following the pandemic.

Among the tax incentives in Jones’ proposed legislation are incentives for businesses that either repurpose existing facilities that have been shuttered or standup new buildings for the manufacturing of healthcare equipment, tax credits for training workers that have lost jobs in declining industries, incentives for healthcare workers and grant funding for communities to install broadband infrastructure to support new industries.

Jones noted that Alabama is uniquely positioned to take the lead as the state is home to many shuttered factories, even more since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, and Jones sees Alabama’s rural areas as ideal for such operations.

“It’s something I think Alabama should get on the front-end of because I believe those jobs are going to be coming,” Jones said. “I think that this bill, I think what we’re trying to do here, could really be beneficial to rural communities and what people might describe as underserved communities. I think this bill could really help there.”

Jones noted that before the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Alabama had a “considerable” textile industry, the factories for which were generally located in rural areas of the state – Jones specifically mentioned Selma’s Craig Field as a prime home for a company in the healthcare manufacturing sector.

“This is really tailor-made,” Jones said. “It doesn’t have to be in a rural area, but I’m hoping we can attract these industries there. I think manufacturing like this, these incentives, could really help communities in the Black Belt.”

While Jones is confident the bill will gain bipartisan support when it’s taken up by the Senate – it was introduced just before the Memorial Day holiday – he said the Senate will likely be focused on the House-passed Heroes Act and ways to stimulate the economy.

“What we’ve done so far isn’t really stimulus,” Jones said. “We’ve been trying to save the economy more than stimulate it.”

Jones called the recent politicization of the Heroes Act “disappointing,” saying there is an obvious “urgency” for more relief for businesses, workers and wide swaths of the American economy, as well as the politicization of wearing a face mask in public per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

“Wearing a mask in public is not a political statement,” Jones said. “Period. It’s being conscious of health concerns and doing what’s necessary to protect your health and your neighbor’s health.”

Jones also weighed in on the state’s reopening in light of virus numbers that continue to be “concerning,” noting that state leaders are in a no-win situation and have to do something to get the state’s economy churning again.

“As we know, this virus is still with us, it is still out there, it is still dangerous and it is still deadly,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, people were so anxious to get out and to work and to get things moving again, and I get that, that they seem to be missing a very important part of the governor’s order, which is that it is still safer at home than it is anywhere out there. If people would exercise that caution, if they would take that personal responsibility…we can open up and we can do things, we’ve just got to transition from life as we knew it to a new normal.”