By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – In and around Indiana, brand new Ford and Chevrolet pickup trucks and Subaru crossovers have been filling up parking lots in Fort Wayne, Hegewisch, Louisville and Lafayette. A portable semiconductor chip is inserted, the truck is driven off the assembly line to a parking lot, where it joins thousands of others. The chip is then pulled out and used to restation the next truck.

The U.S. accounts for a mere 12% of microchip production, with the other 88% manufactured in China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Rich LeTourneau, union bargaining chairman for Local 2209, told WANE-TV that the trucks are built but they cannot be sold just yet. “We’ve probably got 12,000 to 13,000 trucks waiting on those semiconductors. The trucks are built, they’re done, they’re ready to roll, but we can’t ship them until we get the semiconductor installed. It’s that simple.”

In Kokomo and Tipton, where 1,800 Stellantis (formerly Chrysler/Fiat) workers have been furloughed, the Kokomo Tribune reports that the pandemic-fueled chip shortage started when consumer demand soared for more vehicles as people looked to avoid using public transportation. Demand also spiked for devices such as smartphones and gaming consoles that people use for entertainment while stuck at home. The chips, also called semiconductors, have become part of the backbone of the auto industry, controlling nearly all electronic features inside a vehicle.

It is within this pandemic-era curveball that U.S. Sen. Todd Young watched the Endless Frontier Act, which he has co-sponsored with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, pass the Senate Tuesday by a vote of 68-32. “Americans have always looked towards the frontier and forward to new horizons. This bill, this moment, it’s not only about beating the Chinese Communist Party; the Endless Frontier Act is about using their challenge to become a better version of ourselves through investment in innovation. I’m proud the Senate voted to advance this bill to outcompete China and invest in the U.S. Let history record that, at this moment, we stood united. That by confronting the challenges of today, we built a brighter tomorrow for Americans.

The New York Times calls it “the most expansive industrial policy legislation in U.S. history, blowing past partisan divisions over government support for private industry to embrace a nearly quarter-trillion-dollar investment in building up America’s manufacturing and technological edge.”

“We can’t be wedded to old doctrines and shibboleths,” Young told the NYT. “The world has changed. Our economy has changed. The needs of our country have changed.”

“I’m proud of the hard work and bipartisan efforts that have gone into the Endless Frontier Act for more than a year, but particularly over the last few months,” Young said in a video released in late May. “Contributions from many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have been incorporated during what everyone agrees has been the one of the most open processes the Senate has seen in quite some time.”

“We Americans have always been drawn to the frontier,” Young said. “As World War II came to a close and we saw the Cold War on the horizon, we made a strategic decision as Americans to invest in science, the endless frontier. This helped pave the way for the creation of NASA, which took us to the moon. It helped us map the human genome and create the internet. In short, those investments helped America win the 20th Century. While the challenges we face today are of a different nature, we are again at a pivotal moment. A new great power competition is under way, and America’s predominant challenger is China.

“The Chinese Communist Party wants to surpass the United States economically, and spread their authoritarian values across the globe,” Young continued. “They are doing this in part by investing heavily in the endless frontier. It’s time to go on offense. That’s why I authored the Endless Frontier Act. My Endless Frontier Act is going to help Hoosiers supercharge our economy in the 21st Century.”

Inside Indiana Business reported that Conexus said that one-third of the state’s gross domestic product and 500,000 jobs are directly linked to advanced manufacturing, including automotive, medical devices, and aerospace and defense, all of which rely on semiconductors.

The Endless Frontier Act proposes an expansion of the National Science Foundation (NSF) with the establishment of a new Technology and Innovation Directorate within NSF to advance research and development in 10 key technology focus areas, including artificial intelligence, semiconductors, quantum computing, advanced communications, biotechnology, and advanced energy.

According to Schumer and Young, the newly established Technology and Innovation Directorate would receive $100 billion over five years to invest in basic and advanced research, commercialization, and education and training programs in technology areas critical to national leadership.

An additional $10 billion would be authorized at the Department of Commerce to support regional technology strategies and to designate at least 10 regional technology hubs, awarding funds for comprehensive investment initiatives that position regions across the country as global centers for the research, development, entrepreneurship, and manufacturing of new key technologies.

The Endless Frontier Act also establishes a new Supply Chain Resiliency and Crisis Response Program with the national security mission of strengthening critical technology supply chains in the U.S. and with global allies and partners. Additionally, the bill invests in U.S. manufacturing innovation and competitiveness with more than $2.4 billion in funding to enhance and expand the Manufacturing USA network to ensure global leadership in the manufacturing of key technologies. To support the country’s national security capabilities, the bill mandates a strategy on national competitiveness and ingenuity in science, research, and manufacturing to support the national security strategy.

“We have attracted bipartisan support for this piece of legislation,” Young said. “The Endless Frontier Act makes a much-needed investment in emerging technologies like advanced manufacturing. Things like artificial intelligence and quantum computing and robotics we know will not only help our workers grow our economy so we can out innovate and out compete the Chinese, but will also help our warfighters win the wars of the future.

“These investments will create jobs for our workers, and strengthen our national defense so our military never has to fight a fair fight,” Young continued. “It will also create regional tech hubs to ensure that jobs are created not just on the coast, but right here in the heartland. My Endless Frontier Act is designed to prepare more people to fill these jobs and to design new technologies so that Hoosiers can earn more and live more fulfilling lives. Now is the time to strengthen U.S. leadership in science and tech innovation, to ensure that this generation of doers and dreamers and our children once again press us toward the endless frontier and we win the 21st Century.”

Schumer told NYT, “This means we’re going to invest in quantum computing or A.I. or biomedical research, or storage, and then let the private sector take that knowledge and create jobs. These are the areas of dominance that we need research in, and these are the areas of potential industrial growth; great job growth.”

According to the NYT, what is most striking about the legislation is the degree to which the projects that the bill funds closely parallel those in China’s “Made in China 2025” program, which funnels huge government spending into technologies where the country is seeking to be independent of outside suppliers. 

The Chinese government announced its initiative six years ago.