Commerce secretary, in town to talk chips, shares story about dad losing job to China

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U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks at the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks at the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on Monday told an audience of Detroit business professionals about her own father's painful experience of losing his job to outsourcing as she visited Michigan to talk about the Biden administration's push for more domestic semiconductor chip manufacturing.

“You cannot have a great economy if you don’t make things as a core part of that economy," Raimondo, 50, a former Democratic governor of Rhode Island, said at a lunch-hour meeting of the Detroit Economic Club in a Motor City Casino ballroom.

Raimondo spoke to the club following her appearance at a United Auto Workers union hall in Taylor for a roundtable discussion about chip manufacturing with U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and U. S. Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, and Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, left, shares a light moment with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, as they gather to talk the CHIPS Act during a roundtable discussion on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021 at the UAW Region 1A Stephen P. Yokich Auditorium in Taylor.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, left, shares a light moment with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, as they gather to talk the CHIPS Act during a roundtable discussion on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021 at the UAW Region 1A Stephen P. Yokich Auditorium in Taylor.

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Raimondo told the economic club that it is crucial for the House of Representatives to pass the CHIPS for America Act, which she said would provide $52 billion for incentivizing domestic semiconductor research, design and production. The legislation passed the U.S. Senate in June but is still subject to House approval.

She also momentarily shared the stage with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

“I just met this guy today, but I heard about him for a decade or more," Raimondo said. "We have a few mutual friends. And what they tell me is he’s hardworking, he’s practical, he’s obsessed with innovation, he gets things done, but most of all he really believes in Detroit."

Prior to becoming commerce secretary, Raimondo was the first female governor of Rhode Island from 2015 to 2021 and served as the state's treasurer from 2011 until she became governor. She has an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a law degree from Yale and was a Rhodes scholar.

Raimondo recounted how her father worked for 28 years at the Bulova watch factory in Providence, Rhode Island, until he and 1,000 coworkers lost their jobs when the work was outsourced to China. She was in middle school at the time.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks at the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks at the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.

"My dad, he didn’t just lose his job, he didn’t just lose our family’s one paycheck, he lost his livelihood, his career, his confidence and his pride," she said. "What happened to my dad is part of a much bigger American story of what’s happened as we’ve watched manufacturing atrophy and leave our shores.

“During the '80s, that’s when it all started — production had gone overseas. And in the 40 years since then, you know the story," she said. "Our manufacturing industry has suffered from lack of investment, lack of focus, and we’ve lost a lot of jobs. In Michigan here, you know that story better than most."

Raimondo said that 30 years ago, the U.S. produced about 40% of all semiconductor chips in the world. Now we only make about 12% of all chips, and 0% of "leading-edge" chips for the most advanced computing applications, which the U.S. mostly imports from Taiwan.

"We can’t wait because the rest of the world isn’t waiting," Raimondo said. "China, Taiwan, the EU, other countries all around the world, they are not waiting. They are incentivizing and subsidizing the production of chips right now, and they have been for a long time."

Raimondo said that her underlying goal as commerce secretary is "enhancing America's competitiveness" so that businesses can better compete in the globalized economy.

She touted the recent signing of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill and said the Senate next needs to approve the $2 trillion "Build Back Better" bill with social and climate spending.

Money for broadband in Detroit

Mayor Duggan asked Raimondo and about federal funding for expanding low-cost broadband Internet service, saying “one of the things we want to do is run fiber to every single house in the city of Detroit."

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks with Detroit mayor Mike Duggan at the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks with Detroit mayor Mike Duggan at the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.

The commerce secretary replied that the newly signed infrastructure bill contains $65 billion for broadband, and Michigan could get at least $100 million of that.

On the subject of labor shortages, Raimondo said she believes the key to overcoming them is, in the short term, ensuring that everybody gets vaccinated against COVID-19, and in the long term, more workforce training for skilled professions struggling to find people to hire.

"There are still a lot of people who are afraid to go back to work because they don’t know if their coworkers are vaccinated, and so they are nervous," she said.

Contact JC Reindl at 313-222-6631 or jcreindl@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @jcreindl. Read more on business and sign up for our business newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Commerce secretary in Detroit shares story of dad losing job to China

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