J.D. Vance’s Silence on Over 300k Ohioans Working for Foreign Companies

In the eastern Ohio village of McConnelsville, hundreds of workers convene every morning at a pair of factories that manufacture ball bearings and do sintering, a key component in the steelmaking process.

It’s the sort of blue-collar work that’s stereotypical of that part of the country—and that’s lauded by politicians in both major parties as patriotic and essential, not just because it lets workers feed their families, but because it says something fundamental about America.

And all that happens because of a foreign company.

The two factories in McConnelsville are owned by Miba, an Austria-based multinational manufacturing firm. Miba bought an existing ball bearing plant in McConnelsville in 2001 then built the sinter plant next door in 2010.

Why isn’t Sen. J.D. Vance (R–Ohio.) outraged by this?

Vance, you may recall, was angered by the announcement last month that Japan-based Nippon Steel had reached a deal to buy U.S. Steel—which, despite its name, is a publicly traded company and not a wholly owned subsidiary of the federal government.

That deal, according to Vance, meant that “a critical piece of America’s defense industrial base was auctioned off to foreigners for cash.” He vowed to “do everything in my power” to block the transaction between the two private companies.

Vance is not alone in raising objections to the deal. Sens. Bob Casey (D–Pa.), John Fetterman (D–Pa.), Josh Hawley (R–Mo.), and Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) have criticized it as well, and White House National Economic Adviser Lael Brainard has promised to scrutinize to deal and “act if appropriate.”

It’s either performative outrage or else Vance needs to add a lot more businesses to his personal burn book. Indeed, companies based outside the United States employed 7.9 million Americans in 2021, according to the most recent data from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. That includes over 2.8 million American manufacturing workers.

In Vance’s home state of Ohio, over 300,000 workers earn paychecks from companies based overseas—and about half of them (151,300) work in the manufacturing sector. That includes the folks making ball bearings and sintering in McConnelsville.

Across the border in Fetterman and Casey’s home state of Pennsylvania, foreign companies employ 333,500 workers, including 114,400 in the manufacturing sector.

Thanks to the BEA’s data, we also know that about 69,000 Ohioans, 27,000 Pennsylvanians, and over 963,000 Americans overall are employed by companies based in Japan. In Ohio and across the country as a whole, Japanese companies employ more Americans than companies based in any other country—a reflection of the long and mutually beneficial economic relationship between the two allies.

There’s also nothing novel about a foreign-based company operating steel mills in the United States. As Ed Gresser, a former assistant U.S. trade representative, points out in a post for the Progressive Policy Institute: One of the largest steel plants in the country is the Calvert mill in Alabama. It was built by a German company, Thyssen-Krupp, and is currently operated as a joint venture between Luxembourg-based Arcelor-Mittal and, yes, Nippon Steel.

Surely, Vance knows that foreign investment in the United States isn’t something to be feared or blocked but welcomed. As I pointed out last month, Vance’s best-selling memoir Hillbilly Elegy literally contains a story about how investments by a Japan-based company, Kawasaki, benefitted Vance’s hometown of Middletown, Ohio.

Vance’s performative populism might be good politics—he’s reportedly on former President Donald Trump’s shortlist as a possible running mate this year—but it is poor ground for making economic policy.