Oshkosh Corp. has been a stable employer for longer than most of us can remember. What began as the Wisconsin Auto Duplex Co. in 1917, today Oshkosh Corp. sells and services products in more than 130 countries. Oshkosh Corp. has worked its way to its current position as the seventh-largest military contractor in the nation, while providing good-paying union jobs to Wisconsin families.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the need for all-terrain, mine-resistant vehicles prompted Oshkosh Corp. to aggressively ramp up its production between 2008 and 2011. However, as the wars wind down and the urgent need for these vehicles disappears, so disappears stable employment for 450 workers.
This reality must force us to re-evaluate the foundation of our industry in Wisconsin and across the nation. Wars are profitable, but the long-term impact is disaster because layoffs are inevitable when wars end. Thus, the building of industry on top of the unreliable and ever-changing realities of conflict and war is not a permanent plan for permanent employment.
This much is clear: We must diversify our economy. To do this, we must re-evaluate our federal spending priorities.
Military spending at the federal level is a very low job creator in comparison to similar spending in other areas. For every $1 billion of federal money spent on the military, 11,200 jobs are created. Spending that same amount in education creates 26,700 jobs, or in health care creates 17,200 jobs, or in clean energy creates 16,800 jobs (according to University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute).
Although the Fox Cities continue to benefit greatly by the presence of Oshkosh Corp. and the federal money paid to that company, nationally speaking, military spending is a very poor job creator.
Our federal spending must now set as a high priority the conversion of military production by companies such as Oshkosh Corp. to production of products that enjoy a more stable market. The United States has done this before, and on a much larger scale.
After World War II, for example, the successful transition from a wartime to civilian economy took place due to extensive planning and protections at the local, state and national levels. The success of such diversification throughout our nation’s history has depended largely on this federal planning and assistance.
As the wars wind down, as soldiers begin to return home from the war in Afghanistan, as Oshkosh Corp. returns to peacetime levels of production and as 450 Wisconsin workers will begin the new year without employment, now is the time for diversification and a long-term plan for good, union jobs.
Neither Oshkosh Corp. nor its workers should have to go it alone. Let’s refocus our federal spending priorities and ensure that industry and communities can thrive in America in times of war and peace.
Mike Helbick is program director of Peace Action WI. Email: Mike@peaceactionwi.org