A bill currently on Beacon Hill could help level the playing field for companies seeking a role in the state’s public construction projects.
It wouldn’t be too soon for some.
“We won’t bid for government jobs because we won’t get them,” said Brett Miller, manager of Building Envelope Systems, a Plainville construction company. He says that’s because companies using cheaper and often government-subsidized foreign materials can cut his costs.
The bill, known as the “An Act to Promote American Manufacturing” and introduced by State Rep. Joan B. Lovely, D-Salem, would require construction and improvement projects funded by the State costing over $500,000 to use materials made in the USA. Specifically, it would require that contracts for such work “contain a provision that iron, steel, fabricated steel and manufactured goods used or supplied in the performance of the contract or any subcontract will be made in the United States. The federal government is also tightening its Buy American rules this year.
With North Attleboro considering rebuilding or replacing its half-century-old high school over the next few years, as well as a new central fire station at some point, and other communities considering a variety of repairs infrastructure using federal pandemic relief funds, such regulations could have a major impact on local projects.
The bill, listed as S.2456, is currently before the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administration and Oversight and is due for release next month.
The proposal has won bipartisan support with some two dozen House and Senate members listed as petitioners, including local lawmakers Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxboro, State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk and State Representative Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk. Howitt says, “I think it’s important to support our businesses and show our support for American workers.”
In the Attleboro area, it appears the law would have somewhat limited impact. Construction companies large enough to undertake half-million-dollar projects do not represent much of the region’s manufacturing community. But Bill Larson, CEO and partner of Larson Tool, a century-old stamping and specialty machinery company in Attleboro, says it’s good to see the state government standing up for local businesses, even though it won’t affect his directly.
“I’m glad to hear that the government is spending money in this country rather than with countries that don’t like us,” he said.
Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a group of business owners that generally advocates what it sees as pro-growth legislation, has yet to take a stand for or against the bill, according to Christopher Geehern, vice president. public affairs and communications executive.
“We have had no formal conversations with our members about this and therefore have not yet taken a position on the legislation,” he said. “AIM’s 3,400 member companies drive the association’s political agenda and we will certainly incorporate their views in the future.”
Lovely, the bill’s sponsor, touted the bill’s benefits to The Eagle-Tribune in an interview last fall, saying it would help local manufacturers and put taxpayer dollars back into local coffers.
“[E]even if a contract goes to Canada, nobody spends money here,” she told the newspaper. “Their workers are putting that money back into their economy, and we’re on the losing side.”
Miller, CEO of Building Envelope Solutions, a 35-year-old company with 70 employees, agrees that Canada is the main culprit locally.
“It’s a royal pain for us, especially in the North East,” he said in a recent phone interview.
The difference, depending on the time of year, Miller says, “is 25 to 36 cents on the dollar” and, he adds, “no building in Canada is taking American steel.” The city’s $34 million municipal complex, which opened in 2019 just down the road from his company’s headquarters, was not a building envelope job, he said. “We couldn’t touch the cost difference.”
He argued that it is a mistake to say that the lower bids are actually a savings for the taxpayer. “You’re sending taxpayers’ money out of the country,” he said, repeating claims made by the bill’s author.
According to The National Post newspaper, the Canadian federal government spent nearly C$200 million (about $157 million in US dollars) in 2019 alone to subsidize the country’s steel and aluminum companies using a specially designed fund. origin to encourage innovation. The United States imposed tariffs on Canadian metals under the Trump administration.
Building Envelope Systems offers items such as structural steel as well as fabricated metal parts such as railings and stairs. Fortunately, Miller says, there’s a lot of private work right now to take over from city or state jobs. The company’s website touts its recent work at The Point in Wrentham, the apartment complex near the Route 1 and Highway 495 interchange.
Still, Miller says, more people should know about the state bill. “There must be a lot more light,” he said.
There is already a federal Buy American law, whose origins date back to the New Deal era and have been updated since then.
According to JD Supra, an online legal advice site, the Biden administration’s latest orders will make it harder for foreign companies to sell their assets to companies working on public projects in the United States.
A recent article on the site states: “Since 1933, with the passage of the Buy American Act, the federal government has, with varying degrees of success, attempted to eliminate or at least drastically reduce the purchase of products and foreign building materials.
In January, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to strengthen the Buy American Act provision targeting the use of foreign products and materials in federally funded projects, which is likely to “significantly reduce the ‘procurement of final products and building materials produced abroad by the federal government’. and state governments.
The Buy American Act applies to purchases over $10,000 by federal entities for public use and requires that such goods be produced in the United States. This means that the goods must be manufactured in the United States and that at least 50% of the cost of their components must come from the United States.
There are a number of waivers and exceptions to the law, however, and Plainville CEO Miller says “I’ve never seen that help” when it comes to foreign competition.
The latest measures taken by the administration, however, aim to strengthen these rules as part of the overall infrastructure effort.
The Biden administration has taken a key step to ensure that federal dollars will support manufacturing in the United States – by issuing requirements last month on how projects funded by the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package s supply building materials, the Associated Press reported.
New guidelines released in April require that purchased material — whether for a bridge, highway, water pipe or broadband Internet — be produced in the United States. However, the rules also set up a process to waive these requirements in case there are none. enough domestic producers or the materials cost too much, with the goal of issuing fewer waivers over time as U.S. manufacturing capacity expands.
“There are going to be additional opportunities for good manufacturing jobs,” said Celeste Drake, director of Made in America in the White House Office of Management and Budget.
“From day one, every action I’ve taken to rebuild our economy has been guided by one principle: Made in America,” Biden said in a speech in Greensboro, North Carolina, in April. “We need a federal government that doesn’t just pay lip service to Buy America, but actually takes action.”
Biden said the roughly $700 billion the government spends annually on buying goods is supposed to prioritize U.S. suppliers, but regulations dating back to the 1930s have been watered down or applied in a way to mask use foreign imports.
The administration could not say what percentage of building materials for existing infrastructure projects is made in the United States, even though the federal government is already spending $350 billion on construction this year. The new guidelines would let government officials know how many dollars are going to American workers and factories.
John Miller, a professor at Wheaton College in Norton who teaches courses in economics and public policy, says he doesn’t know what “buy American” policies mean in terms of the cost of government or better use of the economy. taxpayers’ money.
Instead, “public spending must be part of an overall industrial policy to develop national industries and enterprises that can compete internationally, provide good, well-paying jobs, and coincide with other goals such as that ending our dependence on fossil fuels and promoting the use of alternative energy,” he wrote in an email to The Sun Chronicle.
“That can’t happen without directed domestic spending, but I don’t know if that means every government dollar has to be spent domestically.”
(Associated Press material was used in this story.)