Editorial: Government needs to remember those that stepped up

A recent editorial by the Marietta Times:

It has been more than two years since federal officials began calling for American-made personal protective equipment to help us combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Small businesses all over the country pivoted to answer the call… or tried, to, anyway. But the struggles they have faced since then are a perfect example of two things very wrong with our economy: we drown ourselves in red tape; and we don’t learn lessons.

Here is an assessment of the experience of one company that tried to make face shields and N95 masks in Missouri:

“So far, it has been a net drain of funds and resources and energy,” said Halcyon Shades owner Jim Schmersahl.

In fact, the Associated Press did an analysis of manufacturers that began producing PPE after the government’s call.

Though their efforts were fueled by a sense of duty to their country, patriotism alone does not sustain a business. Many that received state or federal money to do so have been forced to close or scale back. According to interviews with many of those manufacturers, the reasons were logistical hurdles, regulatory rejections, slumping demand and fierce competition from foreign suppliers.

Ohio awarded $20.8 million to 73 businesses to manufacture pandemic-related supplies, according to state data. Of 60 businesses that complied with a recent reporting deadline, more than one-third no longer produced PPE by the end of 2021.

“I’m still a firm believer in that — that we need to be making PPE here in this state,” said Missouri Gov. Mike Parson. “Unfortunately, a lot of entities went right back to where they were getting it before.”

They asked U.S. businesses to adapt, those businesses did, and governments almost immediately forgot the supply problems that spurred their request in the first place and purchased from overseas manufacturers anyway.

“If the federal government doesn’t come in and help support the U.S. manufacturing base, it’s almost certainly going to go back to China, and we’ll be just as vulnerable as we were in early 2020 and 2019,” said Brent Dillie, the association chairman and co-founder of Premium-PPE, a Virginia manufacturer started during the pandemic, which has cut about two-thirds of its roughly 300 employees.

What a mess — and one created by the bureaucracy and illogical purchasing practices. Dillie is right. If we fail to learn our lesson now, we’ll be in an even worse position to face the next crisis.

— Marietta Times, April 18