Photo: Pictured above, Gadsden’s Goodyear plant suffers a hard loss as its doors close in 2020, but a Senator Doug Jones’ new bill might change the fate of its future. (Katie Bohannon/Messenger)
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Gadsden’s Goodyear plant may not sit idle for long.
During a virtual legislative update with The Chamber of Gadsden and Etowah County on Monday, July 13, United States Senator Doug Jones discussed his plan to bring business back to Alabama.
While Jones addressed the state’s response to COVID-19, he emphasized how the pandemic surfaced the United States’ dependencies on foreign countries and foreign manufacturers for prescription drugs and other health care manufacturing needs. The urgency for rapid health care manufacturing, critical need for personal protective equipment and the concern for ample ventilators became evident as first responders statewide battled the virus.
“This is a matter of national security,” Jones said. “It gives us substantial opportunities. The truth is that we are heavily dependent on primarily China for both medication and medical supplies. We have seen now that stocking up before a pandemic is not an answer. Medications have expiration dates and so do masks. We have to work to make our strategic stockpile stronger and replenish it every so often.”
Jones listed precarious statistics, noting that the United States has not produced penicillin in over 15 years and 90 percent of generic drugs are shipped to the U.S. from a foreign provider. Jones said that 70 percent of U.S. respirators are created in another country, and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, estimates indicated that the U.S. produced only 5 percent of the PPE that the country consumes.
Jones believes there is an answer to the U.S. health care manufacturing crisis, and he intends for Alabama to play a major role in the solution. In April, he wrote to Governor Kay Ivey to encourage a task force to attract health care manufacturing jobs to Alabama.
“We [Alabama] became one of the leaders in automobile manufacturing and we can do it in health care manufacturing,” said Jones.
Inspired to develop change after attending a meeting in Gadsden concerning the Goodyear plant’s closure, Jones introduced an incentive to encourage health care manufacturing companies to settle in the United States.
“We all knew that the handwriting was on the wall about Goodyear,” said Jones. “What we can do with a 60-acre facility that is now sitting idle is something I’ve thought about a great deal. Then it dawned on me – why not think about creative ways to take idle plants like Goodyear and work to help Alabama’s advantage in the health care space to bring those jobs here?”
The Build Health Care Equipment in America Act would do the following: create tax deductions for businesses to repurpose existing facilities or to build new ones to manufacture medical supplies; provide tax credits for employers who hire workers from declining fields; increase education tax benefits for health care workers in short supply fields; and create grants to communities to improve broadband access around facilities to be used as health care manufacturing sites.
Jones anticipates that the demand for health care equipment in everyday life, like PPE for businesses and schools, will not cease for a significant amount of time. Through developing essential health care equipment in local facilities like the Goodyear plant, Jones hopes to encourage the country to create its own provisions and provide much needed jobs nationwide.
“As your senator, I try to do all I can to address the problems in front of us,” said Jones. “We [are] trying to save the economy, save lives and save businesses. The pharmaceutical market is 1.3 trillion dollars…there’s no reason we can’t do that in Alabama.”