How the Global Chip Shortage Affects Heartland Businesses, Workers, and Jobs

October 25, 2021 By Nezar Jamal

If there was any doubt that we live in an interconnected world that is reliant on the international exchange of goods, services, and ideas — the past 18 months have put those doubts to rest. The very spread of the COVID-19 pandemic showed that even the most remote corners of the earth are now tied to the rest of the world. The pandemic has also highlighted just how interconnected the global economy is — from the production of PPE to the closure of ports and subsequent supply chain shortages — what happens in one country or city has a direct impact on the rest of the world’s economy.

One of the most acute ways in which COVID-19 has shown that what happens globally matters locally is the global shortage of semiconductor chips. Businesses and the communities that rely on them across the country have felt the negative effects of the shortage. Experts say the shortages could last well into 2023 or 2024 and companies across America and the world are having to slash production targets due to the crisis. This affects business across the Heartland, especially the automotive industry in states like Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Missouri.

If chips are such a critical part of modern manufacturing, it may seem strange that consumer demand for products containing these chips is far outstripping supply. One could be forgiven for asking – why can’t we just make more chips? – but that’s not the problem. Chip manufacturers and industry experts are blaming the collapse of global supply chains due to the COVID-19 pandemic for the shortages. Capital investments in new manufacturing facilities and resources are present, but it comes down to getting the products to market. Let’s look at the following example to see how the pandemic has shown that problems occurring in other corners of the global economy affect us right here in the heartland.

By 2022, Ford’s all-electric F-150 Lightning will begin rolling off the assembly lines at a brand-new factory in Dearborn, Michigan. The F-150 Lightning relies on thousands of chips to run, and these chips are imported from facilities around the world. Let’s say that Ford has purchased an order of semiconductor chips from Japanese supplier Rohm. The first problem that arises is that Rohm needs to ship the chips from its plant in Kyoto, Japan to the F-150 Lightning assembly lines in Dearborn. Ninety percent of the world’s electronics go through the port of Yantian in mainland China. However, the port has experienced total shutdowns this summer due to the Chinese Government’s COVID-19 mitigation procedures amid the surging Delta variant. Closures at Yantian and other ports across the southern Chinese provinces of Guangzhou and Shenzhen have led to massive back logs of container ships. Despite delay, the shipment eventually makes it through the port and across the Pacific to the port of Los Angeles. Due to unprecedented import demand driven by the pandemic, the port is also reporting delays. Once unloaded, the shipment then needs to travel by rail across the country to Dearborn. Like the shipping industry, rail companies have also experienced delays due to pandemic related problems and overland shipping times have increased as a result. This domino effect of delays will of course impact the production of the new Ford vehicles, causing the Dearborn plant to slow production, in turn hurting American jobs, American businesses, and American workers.

The Ford example shows that what happens globally matters locally. Problems at a port in southern China caused by the knock-on effects of a global pandemic can cause issues right here in the Heartland. Whether its F-150 Lightnings in Dearborn, Michigan, Lincoln Aviators in Chicago, Illinois Ford trucks in Claycomo, Missouri or the Jaguar AJ35 in Lima, Ohio, workers, and businesses across the country have been – and will continue to be – impacted by these wrinkles in the global economy. This shortage shows that what happens around the world affects American workers and American jobs right here in the heartland—just one more reason why America must play an active role in the global economic recovery from the pandemic.