Democrats were quick to criticize Sen. Ron Johnson recently when he said he would not try to persuade Oshkosh Corp. to build vehicles for the U.S. Postal Service in Oshkosh. The company plans to build them in South Carolina and will create more than 1,000 jobs there for the $482 million contract.
If it’s more efficient for the company to spend the federal dollars for the project in another state, Johnson said, he didn’t have a problem with it. He also said Wisconsin has enough jobs, and the biggest problem in the state is not a lack of jobs but employers here not being able to find enough workers.
He may have a point.
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is at a record low (2.8%), the number of job openings is near a record high, manufacturing employment has fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels, and employers, in and out of the manufacturing sector, regularly bemoan the challenges of hiring.
So, on the list of things Wisconsin needs, 1,000+ jobs building the next generation of USPS delivery trucks is not exactly high. Some engineering work will be done in Wisconsin, so the state hasn’t completely lost out on the benefits of the contract.
Of course, some of the debate over where the trucks should be made is about politics. Typically, politicians want to bring projects to their home state. It gives them something to point to as a benefit of electing them.
Let’s set the politics aside for a second. Should we want 1,000+ jobs brought to the state in an already tight labor market with demographic and population trends suggesting hiring won’t get any easier?
The answer is yes, absolutely.
In addition to the jobs benefit, the USPS project would add to Oshkosh Corp.’s significant supply chain in the state, and that’s a huge economic benefit. It would mean more business, and more jobs, at other Wisconsin companies.
Here’s another reason to want to attract more jobs: Almost every state is dealing with tight labor markets. It is a problem that economic development projects everywhere face. Solving it requires attracting more people to the state, which is a major challenge borne out by the state’s slow population growth. As much as we may love the chance to experience all four seasons, not everyone does and so we’re at a disadvantage to sunnier, warmer locations. Having more economic opportunity is one way to overcome that.
Finally, we should consider that some percentage of these vehicles will be EVs. Take a look at the valuations of Tesla or Rivian (even after recent dips) or see the attention major automakers are paying to EVs and it is clear the industry is moving in that direction. We may not be Michigan when it comes to auto manufacturing, but to the extent we do supply the industry, we need to evolve to meet the future of the industry.
So yes, we should want Oshkosh to build USPS trucks in Wisconsin.