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Infrastructure package should go beyond roads and bridges: Siemens USA CEO

·Chief Political Correspondent
·3 min read

As President Biden pushes Congress to pass his more than $2 trillion infrastructure plan, Siemens USA CEO Barbara Humpton is urging lawmakers to think beyond traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges. 

"We need to really focus on the infrastructure that will lay the foundation for American economic prosperity for the next century," Humpton said in an interview with Yahoo Finance Live. "The things that we're looking to are new connected, electric forms of transportation upgrades to the grid, the idea that we really need to be investing in manufacturing." 

Republicans argue Biden's American Jobs Plan is too expensive and includes too many measures unrelated to physical infrastructure. Republican senators led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R., W. Va.) proposed a $568 billion plan that focuses on projects like highways, bridges, airports and broadband. 

On Wednesday, the top Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders will meet with Biden at the White House to discuss potential areas of compromise. On Thursday, the president will meet with Capito and several other Republican senators. Ahead of the meetings, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) suggested he'd be willing to accept an infrastructure package that cost between $600 billion to $800 billion. 

Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens USA, speaks during the Milken Institute's 22nd annual Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., April 29, 2019.  REUTERS/Mike Blake
Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens USA, speaks during the Milken Institute's 22nd annual Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Lawmakers have long agreed on the need to invest in the nation's infrastructure, but have been unable to pass a significant infrastructure upgrade. 

"A dollar invested can yield about $4 of economic benefit," said Humpton. "This ought to be a pretty straightforward equation." 

Biden is proposing raising the corporate tax rate to 28% to help pay for the infrastructure upgrades, but Republicans have been firmly opposed to the tax hike. 

"As a business here in the U.S. our number one priority is to make sure that U.S. businesses are competitive on the global stage, but we also understand it's an important time for us to engage in reasonable dialogue," said Humpton when asked about possible tax increases. 

Humpton told Yahoo Finance investing in U.S. manufacturing should be a key part of an infrastructure investment, as the COVID-19 pandemic and recent semiconductor shortages have revealed weaknesses in the U.S. supply chain. 

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"Over the last couple of decades, there was a tendency to look globally for the low-cost supply center somewhere in the world, and then take advantage of really strong supply chains that would move materials around the world. We're recognizing now after the disruption of the past year, that keeping the creation, the manufacture of goods close to the point of demand is really important," said Humpton. "I know businesses everywhere are looking and analyzing — they may keep operations somewhere offshore, but they know that they also need to have operations on shore."

As some businesses raise concerns about finding workers to fill open jobs, Humpton said she's most concerned about the manufacturing sector. 

"There were already 400,000 open jobs, pre-pandemic," said Humpton. "Even with so many people being out of jobs, what we found is a low level of people prepared to take the manufacturing jobs of the future. So at Siemens, we're investing a lot in the kind of apprenticeships, the kinds of programs that are going to bring people into the field that will really help our customers in their missions as well." 

Jessica Smith is chief political correspondent for Yahoo Finance, based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.

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