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Statewide View: Support manufacturing renaissance with sound mining policy

There are many facets to the debate about restoring U.S. manufacturing to its leadership role in the global economy. But one facet critical to a manufacturing renaissance is rarely acknowledged: how our growing dependence on imported minerals is hampering the production of a wide range of high-tech defense and consumer products.

Amy WalstienA newly completed study determined that U.S. reliance on foreign materials has doubled in the past 20 years, making us reliant on imports for at least half or all of the 50 minerals and metals that are vital to manufacturing.

With growing dependence on imported raw materials, the risk of supply disruptions increases. Prolonged disruptions to the supply chains for minerals adversely affect the growing manufacturing renaissance, hampering innovation and jeopardizing our competitiveness.

Minerals and metals have never been more important to the manufacturing industry. Minnesota manufacturers rely on minerals like steel, copper, nickel, aluminum, and titanium as the building blocks to produce the aerospace, defense, medical-device, and fabricated-metal products for which our state is known. Cars, cell phones, computers, and satellites are all built with a dizzying array and volume of minerals and metals.

As technology advances, the demand for key minerals and metals is soaring. But the supply of materials needed to meet demand isn't keeping pace. If manufacturers don't have ready access to raw materials, or if the prices of those materials soar, their ability to produce is limited.

A tight materials supply chain could have serious consequences right here in Minnesota.

Minnesota is home to some of the nation's most innovative manufacturers. 3M, the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, was born here in Two Harbors and is now one of the leading manufacturing innovators in the world.

New innovators like the 3-D printing company Stratasys, based in Eden Prairie, are developing cutting-edge technology solutions. As technology continues to become increasingly important to our manufacturing future, we must be careful not to choke the innovation and economic growth it can bring because the minerals and metals supply chains can't keep up.

Almost $7 billion was spent by U.S. companies to import minerals last year, and that cost continues to climb. According to the U.S. Geological Survey's 2017 Mineral Commodity Summary, U.S. companies are spending billions overseas on minerals because U.S.-based mines are mired in regulations and hamstrung by bureaucracy.

Just look at our state. Minnesota is home to one of the largest mineral deposits in the world, including copper, nickel, palladium, gold and more. Unfortunately, however, these resources are largely undeveloped due to a regulatory environment that hampers exploration and mining projects. Mine permitting in the U.S. can now take more than 10 years, a timeline that is driving mining investment overseas or making it impossible for U.S. miners to nimbly respond to changes in demand for the minerals our manufacturers need.

We can both protect the environment and make common-sense reforms to mining regulations and permitting. Doing so is critical to the growth of our manufacturing sector.

A recent executive order by the administration of President Donald Trump to improve access to America's metals and minerals was a step in the right direction but was only a first step. Reform is needed to modernize the regulatory system so that permitting reviews by federal and state agencies are coordinated and a time limit is placed on the permitting process. Legislation to achieve these policy goals is pending in Congress.

Improving policies to ensure access to materials will position Minnesota manufacturers for increased growth and further drive success for one of Minnesota's most vital industries.

Amy Walstien is executive director of the Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association (mpma.com), a trade association based in St. Louis Park, Minn., that serves more than 330 members.

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