Someone is going to earn the task of keeping U.S. sailors safer, and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham believes a Rock Hill company is up to it.
“The military is as strong today as I’ve seen since Ronald Reagan,” Graham said Tuesday, during a plant tour alongside U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman. “We’re trying to increase the number of ships. We’re buying new planes. We’re trying to refit our ships. The gun that would go on our new Navy ships would make them more lethal. So one of the most important things the president has done, in my opinion, is rebuild the military after eight years of budget cuts.”
Graham and Norman toured the MSI-Forks manufacturing site on Galleria Boulevard Tuesday morning, ahead of a private lunch for Norman supporters.
MSI-Forks makes about 1,000 fork lifts a day.
“This is the global economy well-explained,” Graham said. “The company is in England. Yorkshire, right? All the steel comes from Canada. And all the workers are from South Carolina.”
It’s British parent company also has a defense division serving the British Navy. In September a contract for refitting guns on U.S. ships comes up, and the Rock Hill manufacturing site could double its 40,000 square feet to meet the need. Some of the 350 initial guns would be built in the United Kingdom, but the bulk would come from Rock Hill if MSI wins the bid.
“We’ll be up against international competition,” said Michael Bell, MSI executive chairman. “There’s no doubt about that. But we’ll work hard at it, and I think the fact that we’re here in South Carolina gives us a certain advantage.”
Bell’s group also has the experience, he said, on a worldwide scale.
“We’re fully supportive of the Royal Navy,” he said. “We have installations working with 30 navies around the world, and we’re in position to meet the new requirement that the U.S. Navy recognizes it needs in order to defend its ships. It’s not about aggression. It’s about defending the ship.”
Graham points to the company’s work with British vessels as a selling point. He also points to legislative work to help companies like MSI.
“Taking the tariffs off Canadian steel has lowered costs,” Graham said. “Putting tariffs on Chinese products that are made through cheating behavior has given them more market share. So this is a good example of Trump’s trade policies working in South Carolina.”
Graham said defense spending has to be top priority at the national level. A budget deal is needed, he said, to avoid $60 billion in cuts to defense industries. Something Graham says the nation can’t afford with threats like North Korea, Iran and Venezuela.
“The times we live in are very dangerous,” Graham said. “A lot of bad people on the move. I really appreciate President Trump rebuilding the military when he took over.”
Trump wasn’t the only person Graham singled out Tuesday for bolstering defense.
“There’s been nobody — I mean nobody — in our delegation that’s been more supportive of military than Congressman Norman,” Graham said. “He understands the No. 1 job of all us at the federal level is to defend the nation. And how do you do that? You give them the best equipment, those in uniform, to fight the war on our terms, get it over as quickly as possible and come home safe.”
Norman reached out to Graham after hearing from MSI, with the pair working to create a business environment where the Rock Hill company and others like it can thrive.
“The first thing they told me was, we’ve got a quality product and we want to compete,” Norman said.
Graham said defending the country is his top aim, which is why he was happy to show up Tuesday both to tour the grounds where future military equipment could be made and to tout his friend in congress.
“When it comes to our defense needs, I’ve really been impressed with Congressman Norman understanding the needs of our military and making sure our men and women have what they need to win the wars we can’t afford to lose,” Graham said.
What else he said
Sen. Graham spoke briefly on a variety of topics, from work force talent to the Carolina Panthers possible headquarters relocation to South Carolina.
On the Panthers move:
“It would be great for South Carolina. This part of South Carolina, particularly, to have the headquarters of an NFL team here. I think the incentive package makes sense to me. These are really good-paying jobs. It puts us on the map. The training facilities will be used year-round. They become a fan experience. So from my point of view, that just shows that when you look across the border into South Carolina, you see opportunity from all over the country.
“There’s a reason people come to South Carolina. Particularly this part. You have a very pro-business congressman and local representatives. You have a good labor force, great technical schools. And I think the people in the Panther organization see an opportunity to build in South Carolina to get a better return.”
On a tech savvy work force:
“I would tell Amazon talk to BMW and Michelin and Boeing and everybody else. Talk to these folks about the work force. I think the thing we have going for us in this part of South Carolina and the Charlotte area is good technical colleges, universities that are going to partner with MSI to build out their defense program and to do what they’re doing. So I would argue that of all the places you could do business, South Carolina gives you the highest quality work force available. You have very pro-business communities here that are going to try to make you successful.”
On his top priority:
“My No. 1 issue is defending the country. Making sure we have a military budget consistent with the needs of our military. To make sure Iran doesn’t go to war — Iran won’t go to war if they know they’re going to lose.
“We owe it to our troops. If you’re going to send them overseas, you make sure you have their back. And anybody that threatens our military personnel or civilians serving America overseas, they need to know that a swift response will be coming their way.
“This is not about invading Iran. This is about telling the Iranians if you attack an American interest in Iraq, you’re going to pay a heavy price.”
On other goals:
A broken immigration system, more affordable prescription drugs and improvements to roads, bridges and ports all make Graham’s short-term list.
“The infrastructure needs of this area are never-ending. That’s why I want to do an infrastructure bill. I’d like to work with Democrats to build roads and bridges. We’re growing so fast in South Carolina, particularly this part. I’m hoping we can get a deal this summer with Democrats to do a big infrastructure project.
“Our roads and bridges are in need of deep repair. We just raised the gas tax in South Carolina because we were running out of money. I’d like to do a big deal with President Trump and Democrats that would help roads, bridges and ports. That’s a big priority for me.
“I’ll be reporting out a prescription drug package that will make it easier for generics to get on the market, which will lower costs for you and your family when you buy prescription drugs.”
On Memorial Day:
Graham called it a personal re-dedication point, encouraging all people to remember sacrifice by committing to become better citizens.
“On Memorial Day we remember those who never made it back. And my goal is to make sure that we continue to have a country worth dying for.”