In Ohio, Biden Says Democrats Have Started a Manufacturing Revival

Friday, September 9, 2022

WASHINGTON — President Biden attended the groundbreaking for a $20 billion computer chip factory on Friday in a heavily Republican part of Ohio, testing the power of his election-year message that Democrats have helped start a manufacturing revival with record amounts of government spending.

Mr. Biden traveled to Licking County, Ohio, outside Columbus, where Intel plans to build a semiconductor manufacturing factory. In remarks at the event, the president said the company’s decision to build the plant was the result of legislation he had signed authorizing his administration to spend up to $52 billion to support the chip industry.

“This new law makes historic investment for companies to build advanced manufacturing facilities here in America,” Mr. Biden said, standing in front of an open field where the sprawling facility, the length of 10 football fields, is planned to be built. “Since I signed the CHIPS and Science Act, it’s already started happening.”

Intel, one of the world’s leading chip makers, announced construction of the Ohio facility in January, months before passage of the legislation in the summer, saying it was building the plant to meet surging global demand. In its news release announcing the investment, the company did not specifically mention the possibility of federal legislation to help finance it.

But Pat Gelsinger, the company’s chief executive, hailed the legislation, known as the CHIPS and Science Act, and said the spending by the federal government could spur even more manufacturing construction in the years ahead. In his introduction of the president, Mr. Gelsinger praised Mr. Biden and other Washington officials.

“It was a bipartisan bill,” he said at Friday’s event. “How often do you hear that today?”

For Mr. Biden, commending Intel’s construction plans is part of a strategy to focus voter attention on parts of the economy that are improving — and away from the record-high inflation that has frustrated many Americans and dragged down his approval ratings.

White House officials note that the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States has increased by 680,000 since the president took office, the fastest pace in the last 50 years. In his remarks, Mr. Biden said that three other high-technology companies — Micron, Qualcomm and GlobalFoundries — had recently announced plans to expand manufacturing in the United States.

Administration officials have promised that the investments in chip manufacturing will not be a giveaway to companies already making big profits. The law forbids companies from using the federal investments to buy back stock or invest in construction in China. And it includes rules to encourage the use of union labor.

Gina Raimondo, the secretary of commerce, told reporters this week that her department would be “vigilant and aggressive” in making sure the money was not misused.

“We’re going to be pushing companies to go bigger and be bolder,” she said. “So if a company already has funding now for a $10 billion project, we want them to think bigger and convince us how they go from $10 billion to $50 billion with use of the taxpayer financing.”

She promised that the government would “claw back” investments if companies failed to abide by the government’s rules.

The visit to Ohio on Friday is the latest example of Mr. Biden and his advisers’ efforts to rewrite the nation’s economic narrative ahead of the midterm elections, leaning into legislative successes and some bright spots in economic data in hopes of soothing consumers who have been rocked by soaring prices following the pandemic recession.

Polls show that the economy — and, in particular, inflation that remains high — remains a liability for the president. Mr. Biden’s economic team has grown increasingly emboldened by the state of the recovery in recent weeks, as job growth has stayed solid and gasoline prices have continued to fall nationwide.

On Friday, Mr. Biden’s economic team released a 58-page “economic blueprint” that seeks to claim credit for the strong labor market and factory sector, while reiterating the president’s still-unfinished plans for additional tax and spending changes meant to help the economy.

The document divides Mr. Biden’s economic strategy into five pieces: empowering workers, improving American manufacturing, aiding families, strengthening industrial competitiveness and leveling the tax code to help middle-class workers.

Will it work, politically, to help Democrats avoid deep losses in the midterm elections this fall?

White House officials are betting that messages like the one Mr. Biden delivered on Friday will appeal to a broad swath of voters, including middle-class workers, independents, those with college degrees and those without.

Places like Ohio will be a test of that theory.

The state is home to one of the most fiercely contested Senate races in the country. J.D. Vance, an author who has embraced former President Donald J. Trump’s style and ideology, is running as a Republican against Representative Tim Ryan, Democrat of Ohio, to replace Senator Rob Portman, who is retiring.

Mr. Ryan has distanced himself from Mr. Biden, declining to campaign with the president and saying that the country needs “new leadership” when asked whether the president should run for a second term. Mr. Ryan, who also attended the Intel event on Friday, noted that Mr. Biden had hinted during the 2020 campaign that he might serve only one term.

“The president said from the very beginning he was going to be a bridge to the next generation,” Mr. Ryan told reporters, “which is basically what I was saying.”

Mr. Biden’s approval rating has somewhat recovered from lows earlier this year, though a majority of Americans continue to disapprove of his leadership in most polls. Still, the president’s appearance in one of the most conservative parts of Ohio suggests that his political advisers believe talking about manufacturing can be a winning strategy.

In 2016, Mr. Trump won Licking County, where the Intel plant will be built, 61 percent to 33 percent over Hillary Clinton. Four years later, he won again, this time over Mr. Biden, 63 percent to 35 percent.

Before Mr. Biden’s remarks, the White House announced that the administration had distributed $17.7 million to colleges and universities in Ohio to help support programs that focus on developing a work force capable of taking jobs in next-generation semiconductor factories like the one Intel plans to build.

Officials said the National Science Foundation was planning to spend $100 million to invest in similar programs around the nation, all designed to help train people to take new, high-paying jobs in the industry, no matter where they live.

In his speech, the president made clear the message he hoped voters would take from those announcements.

“Jobs now,” he said. “Jobs for the future. Jobs in every part of the country.”