WASHINGTON — President Biden attended the groundbreaking ceremony for a $20 billion computer chip factory in a heavily Republican section of Ohio on Friday, testing the power of his election-year message that Democrats helped kickstart a revival in manufacturing with record amounts of government spending .
Mr. Biden traveled to Licking County, Ohio, outside of Columbus, where Intel plans to build a semiconductor fab. In a remark at the event, the president said the company’s decision to build the facility was the result of a law he signed authorizing his government to spend up to $52 billion to support the chip industry.
“This new law is a historic investment for companies to build advanced manufacturing facilities here in America,” said Mr. Biden, standing in front of an open field on which the sprawling 10-football facility will be built. “Since I signed the CHIPS and Science Act, it’s already started.”
Intel, one of the world’s leading chipmakers, announced construction of the Ohio plant in January, months before the bill passed in the summer, and said it was building the plant to meet rising global demand. In its press release announcing the investment, the company didn’t specifically mention the possibility that federal laws will help fund it.
But Pat Gelsinger, the company’s chief executive, welcomed the legislation, known as the CHIPS and Science Act, and said federal spending could boost the construction sector even more in the years to come. In introducing the President, Mr. Gelsinger praised Mr. Biden and other Washington officials.
“It was a bipartisan bill,” he said at Friday’s event. “How often do you hear that today?”
For Mr. Biden, praising Intel’s blueprints is part of a strategy to draw voters’ attention to parts of the economy that are improving — and away from record-high inflation that has frustrated many Americans and dragged his approval ratings lower.
White House officials note that manufacturing jobs in the United States have risen by 680,000 since the president took office, the fastest pace in 50 years. In his remarks, Mr. Biden said that three other high-tech companies — Micron, Qualcomm and GlobalFoundries — recently announced plans to expand manufacturing in the United States.
Government officials have promised that the investment in chipmaking will not be a giveaway to companies that are already making big profits. The law prohibits companies from using the federal investment to buy back shares or invest in construction projects in China. And it includes rules to encourage the use of unionized workers.
Gina Raimondo, the Commerce Secretary, told reporters this week that her department will be “vigilant and aggressive” to ensure the money is not misused.
“We will push companies to be bigger and bolder,” she said. “So if a company already has funding for a $10 billion project right now, we want them to think bigger and see how they’re going from $10 billion to $50 billion with taxpayer funding.”
The status of the 2022 midterm elections
With the primaries over, both parties are beginning to shift their focus to the November 8 general election.
She pledged that the government would “claw back” investments if companies failed to comply with government rules.
Friday’s visit to Ohio is the latest example of efforts by Mr. Biden and his advisers to rewrite the nation’s economic narrative ahead of the midterm elections, drawing on legislative wins and some bright spots in economic data in hopes to reassure consumers who have been rocked by soaring prices following the pandemic recession.
Polls show that the economy – and persistently high inflation in particular – remains a burden for the President. Mr. Biden’s economics team has been increasingly encouraged by the state of the recovery over the past few weeks, as job growth has remained solid and gasoline prices continued to fall across the country.
On Friday, Mr. Biden’s economic team released a 58-page “economic plan” aimed at claiming credit for the strong job market and manufacturing sector, and reiterated the president’s still-unfinished plans for additional tax and spending changes that would benefit the economy should help .
The document breaks Mr. Biden’s economic strategy into five parts: empowering workers, improving American manufacturing, supporting families, strengthening industrial competitiveness, and aligning tax laws to help middle-class workers.
Will it work politically to help Democrats avoid deep losses in this fall’s midterm elections?
White House officials are betting that messages like Mr. Biden’s on Friday will appeal to a broad constituency of voters, including middle-class workers, independents, and those with and without college degrees.
Places like Ohio will be a test of that theory.
The state is home to one of the most competitive Senate races in the country. JD Vance, an author who appropriated the style and ideology of former President Donald J. Trump, is running as a Republican against Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Ohio, to replace Sen. Rob Portman, who was in the going into retirement.
Mr Ryan has distanced himself from Mr Biden, refused to court the president and said the country needs “new leadership” when asked if the president should run for a second term. Mr Ryan, who also attended the Intel event on Friday, noted that during the 2020 campaign Mr Biden had hinted that he might only serve one term.
“The president said from the start that he would be a bridge to the next generation,” Ryan told reporters, “which is basically what I said.”
Mr. Biden’s approval rating has recovered somewhat from the lows earlier this year, although a majority of Americans continue to disapprove of his leadership in most polls. Still, the president’s appearance in one of the most conservative parts of Ohio suggests his political advisers believe talking about manufacturing can be a winning strategy.
In 2016, Mr. Trump won Licking County, where the Intel plant is to be built, 61 percent to 33 percent over Hillary Clinton. Four years later he won again, this time against Mr. Biden, 63 percent to 35 percent.
Prior to Mr. Biden’s comments, the White House announced that the government had allocated $17.7 million to Ohio colleges and universities to support programs focused on developing a workforce capable of Taking jobs in next-generation semiconductor fabs like the ones Intel plans to build.
Officials said the National Science Foundation plans to spend $100 million to invest in similar programs across the country, all aimed at helping people take on new, high-paying jobs in the industry regardless of where they live .
In his speech, the President made clear the message he hoped voters would take with them from these announcements.
“Jobs now,” he said. “Jobs for the future. Jobs in all parts of the country.”
Jim Tankersley contributed reporting.