Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said Saturday he won't try to persuade a Wisconsin manufacturer to place more than 1,000 new jobs in his hometown.
"It's not like we don't have enough jobs here in Wisconsin. The biggest problem we have in Wisconsin right now is employers not being able to find enough workers," Johnson said about Oshkosh Corp.'s plans to locate the jobs in South Carolina.
Johnson, who is seeking a third term this fall, said he supports having more manufacturing jobs in the state but indicated the company is best suited to make the call on where to build vehicles for the U.S. Postal Service.
"I wouldn't insert myself to demand that anything be manufactured here using federal funds in Wisconsin," Johnson told reporters after appearing at a "Parent Empowerment Rally" in Washington County. "Obviously, I'm supportive of it. But in the end, I think when using federal tax dollars, you want to spend those in the most efficient way and if it's more efficient, more effective to spend those in other states, I don't have a real problem with that."
Johnson's approach contrasts with Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who says she's trying to get the trucks built here by the company's Oshkosh Defense segment.
"To me, it’s simple — I want Oshkosh Defense to manufacture trucks in Oshkosh with Wisconsin workers," Baldwin said in a statement.
The two stances show the dramatic fault lines between the two senators.
But they also hint at what's to come over the coming months as Johnson, up for, re-election, faces a campaign where economic issues are likely to be front and center.
While Johnson has sought to frame the economic debate on his terms: blasting the Biden administration for soaring debt and rising inflation. The crowded field of Democratic contenders has stressed the need to create family-supporting jobs for more Wisconsinites.
When told of Johnson's remarks, Democratic candidate and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson was dumbfounded, declaring that the added jobs — and money — would help the wider community.
"He wants a third term and he just doesn't understand economic development," Nelson said. "It's mind blowing, breathtaking."
In February, 2021, Oshkosh Corporation's Oshkosh Defense division won a contract with the U.S. Postal Service to produce up to 165,000 Next Generation Delivery Vehicles.
In June, Oshkosh Defense announced its decision to manufacture the vehicles at a new facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where it planned to hire more than 1,000 employees.
Under the plan, more than 100 employees in engineering and program support for the project would be based in Oshkosh at the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle Technical Center.
Unionized workers in Oshkosh, along with their national counterparts, have asked the company to reconsider the decision. Baldwin and others have contended production in South Carolina would likely be done by non-union labor.
In late November, Baldwin and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, sent a letter to Oshkosh Corp. management to get more information on the plans to manufacture in South Carolina as well as information the firm supplied to USPS.
In a statement, Baldwin said she would "continue to urge Oshkosh Defense and the Postal Service to further scrutinize the final production location in South Carolina based on the strength of our existing, experienced workforce in Wisconsin."
Last week, the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency sent letters to USPS asking it to reconsider its plans to buy primarily gas-powered vehicles. Oshkosh Defense said it could make adjustments to meet new requirements for all-electric vehicles if the contract changes.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Sen. Ron Johnson won't try to get Oshkosh Corp. jobs in Wisconsin