How Polis, Newsom, and other Western governors can "get tough" on China

By Bart Taylor | Jul 21, 2020


The same day this week the Washington Post reported the Trump administration was "trying to block billions of dollars for states to conduct testing and contact tracing in the upcoming coronavirus relief bill," Colorado Governor Jared Polis was encouraging the opposite, stating flatly, "The national testing scene is a complete disgrace," while slamming the federal testing strategy as "almost useless from an epidemiological or even diagnostic perspective."

For a Western governor to be sideways with President Trump isn't unusual. From Oregon to California to New Mexico, COVID-19 continues to widen the Grand Canyon-like political divide in the West.

Ironically, COVID also provides a means for political adversaries to rally around shared interests. Manufacturing has emerged as one. However unlikely it is that President Trump will work with Polis, or California Governor Gavin Newsom, or New Mexico's Michelle Lujan Grisham in an election cycle, in theory each state has much to offer a Trumpian "get tough" strategy on China, namely by helping companies locate more production here.

Governors can't set U.S. trade policy, but they can provide a road map for federal policymakers. Here are three things western Governors can do to support local manufacturing and chip away at China's stranglehold on hosting U.S. companies.

1. Work with local companies, one by one, to develop domestic productions strategies. America's governors are in a unique position. They interact with influential companies -- every day. It's part of the job description.

What's been lacking are sustained conversations about why local companies and brands offshore production. If this wasn't the case, there would be more local manufacturing.

A new approach would first acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that U.S. brands have made China a manufacturing superpower. If U.S. companies and brands were key to China's manufacturing ascendance, so too are they at the center of any American renewal.

Governors can be local manufacturing's most powerful advocates. One company at a time.

2. Make manufacturing-related R&D a priority. America's research ecosystem is formidable, but to assume technology acumen translates into manufacturing-related leadership in automation and robotics is misguided.

Arthur Herman's Wall Street Journal op-ed this week referenced a 2015 Strategy& and PwC study that found "found that U.S. companies were steadily moving their research-and-development centers to China to be closer to production, suppliers and engineering talent."

It's a troubling conclusion. The lesson for governors is that a strong manufacturing base is vital to maintaining a world-class R&D ecosystem.

Ensure there’s a connection between universities, labs, and manufacturers. Host events. Facilitate conversations. Put our R&D ecosystem to work for manufacturing.

3. Encourage and subsidize local buying. Products made in the U.S. are often more expensive than those made offshore. Why? Because labor is less expensive.

But the cost of not supporting jobs and infrastructure here, to save a few dollars, can't be measured. Governors have a bully pulpit to educate and rally citizens to buy locally made products and legislators to subsidize local production. They should use it. It's a winning, bipartisan issue.

"Getting tough" on China is election-year sloganeering. Deep, strategic partnerships shape Sino-American business and economic ties. Yet for every U.S. brand that leaves China to invest in American workers and communities, China's influence wanes.

Presidents Obama and Trump both used the office to advocate for domestic production. It's left to governors and local officials to fill in the gaps and drive a U.S. manufacturing resurgence that works to shift the balance of economic power to America's shores.

Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach him at