Topics including shortages in labor, semiconductor chips and inventory guided Friday morning's roundtable discussion hosted by U.S. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, and Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Minoqua, in Duluth.
The representatives met at Clyde Iron Works with 14 Northland leaders in transportation, business and community development industries to discuss supply chain crisis impacts.
Patrick Miner of Miner's Inc. in Hermantown said the implications of shortages on the manufacturing side will bring an even greater impact to distribution at the company's grocery and liquor stores, which includes Super One. Many large manufacturing companies, like Procter & Gamble and Kraft Heinz, are increasing prices of products.
Miner said offering competitive pricing is critical for the business, but it's hard to keep the price of products low when they have to pay more for inventory. In addition, he said many trucks are coming half- or three-quarters full, which means there is less of a need for employees to unload those trucks and stock shelves with fewer products.
London Road Rental Center's Jerry Kortesmaki said some products for the business' inventory, including floor finisher, are stuck on trucks or ships, and the delay of their delivery will also delay the jobs of people who need those products in order to complete their projects. He also noted that equipment is aging and can't be replaced, and the money he would use to buy new equipment is instead going toward raised taxes.
Dwayne Haapanen of Kolar Auto Group described the dealership as "the poster child for supply chain issues." He said the global chip shortage has prolonged the inventory shortage of new cars and trucks, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes are owed due to the last-in, first-out reserve method.
Stauber said he intends to push in Washington, D.C. for domestic production of chips, which is impacting both automotive sales inventory and parts needed for equipment across the transportation industry.
"We have the workforce and technology, and the space available to do it," Stauber said. "Chip manufacturing specifically hits all areas, from the grocery store, to trucking, to shipping, to national security, to defense. We need to reshore these facilities to be made in America and not rely on foreign nations."
Tiffany and Stauber said they blame actions by the Biden administration for many of the supply chain issues, including depending on foreign raw and manufactured materials, and for the federal vaccine mandate amid a nationwide labor shortage.
Attendees also discussed the challenges of the Minnesota requirement to be age 21 to drive a commercial vehicle across state lines, which Wisconsin-operated businesses said creates problems when they have 18-year-old employees who aren't able to do their jobs if it requires driving into Duluth. Stauber and Tiffany said they were going to look into what could be done about the age requirement in order to help expand the labor pool amid shortages.
Kortesmaki said he has witnessed a lack of work experience in individuals seeking jobs, which he believes is due to too much dependence on government assistance. He sees high turnover rates of staff as well. Tiffany said that while the enhanced unemployment benefits may have been necessary at the beginning of the pandemic, he believes they were too prolonged and incentivized people to drop out of the labor pool.
"The fabric of this country was built on work ethic," Stauber said. "Before you can get a better job, first you have to get a job."
Douglas County Board Chair Mark Liebaert said the county is really struggling to keep enough service workers, especially at jails. He said because of the shortage people are working overtime, which in turn is causing high turnover rates. He expressed concerns about government services being unavailable to the public if they aren't able to hire more workers.
Lance Klatt of the Minnesota Service Station & Convenience Store Association said he believes there is too much emphasis on earning a four-year degree and not enough encouragement is given to young people to enter the trades, which is hurting the skilled labor industry.
Richard Stewart, University of Wisconsin-Superior transportation and logistics professor, noted that people in education know how to work hard, too, but he agreed there could be more of an emphasis on the opportunities in the area's trades and community and technical colleges. Stewart also noted there were no women participating in the roundtable discussion, and said there have been generations of barriers for women to enter the transportation and skilled labor force.
"As a society, we haven't said, 'Truck driving's great work,'" Stewart said. "Whenever I speak to folks who ask why we can't get truck drivers, I say, 'So, how many of you encouraged your kids to be truck drivers?' Well, there's your answer."
Tiffany said the transportation hub of the Twin Ports is underutilized nationally. Jayson Hron of Duluth Seaway Port Authority said he hopes to help as much as the port authority can to be a solution to some of the shortages. He said the St. Lawrence Seaway is capable of increasing its shipping volumes, which could take some of the burden off of coastal ports.
Stauber and Tiffany said many of the problems faced locally are the same that they've heard about across the nation. Tiffany said he expects efforts to combat these issues to be supported across party lines.