On Jan. 25, President Joe Biden signed an executive order into law to help invest and support America's manufacturing industry. For area manufacturers such as Pflugerville's Armbrust American, the order could not only enhance Central Texas' pull as a manufacturing hub, but could also bolster and financially support Armbrust American's mask production efforts.

The newly signed executive order is designed to help close loopholes in the Buy American Act that allow companies to relocate production efforts and jobs overseas while still receiving domestic preferences, per federal documents.

"The biggest change is the percentage, the definition of what is 'buy American,'" said Lloyd Armbrust, founder and CEO of Armbrust American. "Most masks, by the real definition of the actual law that's on the books, the Buy American Act, most masks are technically not made in America."

While many surgical masks are assembled in the United States, the vast majority of masks' materials are purchased and constructed overseas in countries such as China prior to being shipped and assembled domestically.

Biden's executive order builds off of former President Donald Trump's Buy American and Hire American executive order, signed into law in April 2017. Under Biden's version of the legislation, the order prioritizes American manufacturers who conduct a higher percentage of their operations and production domestically.

For American manufacturers, Armbrust said the pull toward offshoring production efforts comes down to cost-saving measures. Under the new order, increased investment and assistance for American manufacturers can help increase access to bank capital, making their production efforts more lucrative domestically, Armbrust said.

"The biggest thing that manufacturing needs in the United States is access to cheap capital or easy-to-get capital," he said. "If the government could fix that one problem, then you would see an incredible manufacturing boom in this country."

While his business specializes in mask production, Armbrust said the manufacturing industry has the potential to become the antidote for economic problems nationally. By embracing technological advancements while also supporting American-based initiatives, Armbrust said the new executive order can facilitate quality jobs while also alleviating financial strains pushing companies to offshore production.

"This income gap and this inequality that is driving the separation that we have and all this political instability—I really think if you have a really good place for people to go to work and get fulfilled with and learn and grow from, I think that manufacturing could be that for the United States," he said.

A similar kind of manufacturing uptick is already underway in the Central Texas region, spurred in part by the coronavirus pandemic. Armbrust American is one of several medical manufacturing operations to launch in Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto in 2020. In 2020, despite an economic recession due to the pandemic, manufacturing jobs in the Austin metro increased 8.3% between December 2019 and December 2020.

A driving factor in launching Armbrust American was the necessity for a direct pipeline of personal protective equipment produced in the United States and distributed to American businesses, hospital networks and individuals, he said. With Texas' geographic location in the center of the country and Central Texas' access to major highway corridors, Armbrust said his vision for the region is to become the epicenter of American personal protective equipment production.

"We need all of these independent companies to work together," he said. "If we could really focus on that, especially along the SH 130 corridor, I really think that could be something that would serve the country really well, and I think it would be something that would serve Texas."