Tuesday | 09 October, 2012 | 9:01 am

Pathway to progress

By Gretchen Salois

A new bridge linking the US and Canada offers new promise for local businesses

October 2012 - In June, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to connect United States and Canada, promoting North American commerce. The task of completing the estimated $400 billion bridge project will be carried out by local sources, from construction through all stages of the supply chain.

The agreement, signed on June 15, is the first in a series of steps needed before any construction begins. The state of Michigan is currently in the process of applying for a permit from the State Department, which could take months. Until the permit is approved, the state will not be able to appoint members to the governing authority, a preliminary step before requesting additional information and proposals.

Using domestic companies for the project is a key focal point for both American and Canadian officials. “Both Michigan and Canada made it clear they believe it is important to support these industries,” says Ken Silfven, deputy press secretary for the Michigan governor’s office in Lansing. “One of the tremendous benefits of the new international trade crossing is jobs, of course.” Silfven says officials want to maximize “all benefits for Michigan, and the Canadians want to do the same on their side.”

Optimistic about the positive impact the project will have on the domestic metals industry, Leo W. Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers, Pittsburgh, says the bridge will open up many doors. “The USW has been spreading the word for over two and a half years, letting people know that any major bridges should be built with U.S. steel,” he says, adding this project will hopefully be the first of many similar endeavors throughout the country.

Political promotion
In this election year revitalizing manufacturing is a hot topic. “I think the president, in large measure, has helped a lot by talking about revitalizing manufacturing in the U.S.,” Gerard says. “It’s the first time I can remember a president talking about it in 20 years—these are important statements that help a lot. I think what will happen with the bridge between Michigan and Ontario will help the supply chain in both countries.”

The outlook is good as far as Michigan is concerned, which is key because the state has been marred by companies leaving during the economic recession. “We are very excited about Michigan’s future,” Silfven says. “We already are being recognized as the ‘comeback state.’ As we continue to grow, it is important that we open new markets for our farmers, manufacturers and entrepreneurs.”

Canada is Michigan’s largest trading partner, so the bridge plans are a logical next step. “It only makes sense to enhance that economic relationship by building a modern, strategically located, international crossing,” Silfven says.

Gerard emphasizes the importance of ensuring supplies and services remain in the United States and Canada instead of outsourcing. He believes the Bay Bridge in California, was a lost opportunity for many domestic manufacturers and workers because much of the bridge construction was outsourced to China, “resulting in a red-taped mess,” he adds. “There was a lesson learned there.” Using the North American supply chain is an important factor, Gerard says.

The call to keep construction domestic is spreading throughout the United States, with New York being the most recent state working with the USW to ensure any bridges built there use local manufacturers and suppliers from New York and the United States. “There’s a lot of work yet to be done and the USW is going to monitor progress in real terms to make sure the commitment is lived up to.

“The bridge between the U.S. and Canada should be sourced by Michigan and Ontario,” Gerard continues. “And if not there, then between the U.S. and Canada, not the Chinese.” MM


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