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May 3, 2021 | by M. Robert Weidner, III

Building Now for a Stronger Industrial Metals Sector

Earlier this year, MSCI launched www.build-now.org, a website for members of our industrial metals community to gather to show why Canadian and U.S. lawmakers must invest in infrastructure. We are grateful to all of the members and partners who have engaged on the site and on social media so far—and we’re particularly grateful to our partners at Ryerson. If you didn’t catch the company’s call to action, you can find it here. Over the coming weeks, you’ll be reading more from MSCI member companies on this issue. (If you’re interested in weighing in, please drop Ryan Hietpas an email at rhietpas@msci.org.)

Every service center and every mill, along with every customer, is affected by substandard infrastructure. Our children suffer from lack of infrastructure investment when they are packed into schools. Our continent suffered when it realized we lacked the hospital capacity, the ventilators, even the N95 masks we needed in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Ryerson’s team said, 2020 showed us how much we take for granted, especially when it comes to infrastructure.

MSCI is North America’s premier industrial metals trade association. We know better than anyone that building again in North America is integral to the future of our industry. Our industry is climbing its way out of the COVID recession, but U.S. and Canadian steel and aluminum shipments are still significantly below their pre-Great Recession levels.

The industrial metals sector is in material decline—indeed, we face an existential crisis. Global overcapacity certainly is to blame, as are unfair trade practices, of course. But shipments also are off because our national, state, provincial, and local leaders have failed to make comprehensive investments in infrastructure.

This is not a failure of just the last few years, either. It is generational.

According to MSCI’s Metals Activity Report, 2019 pre-pandemic year-end aluminum shipments in the United States were still 18.1 percent below their 2006 peak. U.S. steel shipments were down 25 percent. As our partners at Keybridge Research in Washington, D.C. have shown, offshoring has significantly harmed our industry. (At this link, you’ll also find a webinar with Keybridge that investigates the relationship between metals service centers and residential construction. The webinar provides food for thought as policymakers consider whether encouraging affordable housing investments become part of an infrastructure program.)

We need to build at home.

Now imagine if the public and private sector united to invest in renewable energy, transit, and 5G, along with our schools, hospitals, and transportation infrastructure. Our industry would flourish.

The #LetsBuildNow movement is not just about us, however. According to the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE), there is a water main break in the United States every two minutes, which means an estimated six billion gallons of treated water is lost each day.

Your utility bills are higher because our policymakers have failed to invest in infrastructure.

The ASCE also estimates there are potentially 40,000 miles of levees across the United States that are at risk of failure. The next flood could be more catastrophic because policymakers have failed to invest in infrastructure.

It is up to us to tell this story. It is up to our community to shout #LetsBuildNow. Tell your story on social media and by visiting www.build-now.org, and email rhietpas@msci.org if you are interested in getting more involved.