Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Join the "Made in America" Movement

Are the majority of the products that you buy made in America?  If you're like most people, the answer is generally a resounding yes.  In fact, many will add that they believe buying American-made products is a "priority" for them.  Though it should be a priority for us all, the reality is that this is simply not the case.  Unfortunately, the evidence that proves otherwise is all around us...it's called the Great Recession.

Due to our economic downturn, I've started to see some real engagement in the conversation of what's "Made in America" now. To bring attention to the issue, ABC News recently kicked off a groundbreaking project to identify the true origin of our consumer goods in this country.  They spent two weeks on the subject, first looking at our typical household items and then looking at our apparel.  The results of both were staggering.

Thinking that they mostly bought products made in the U.S., a sweet Texas family offered to represent their fellow Americans and confidently invited World News Tonight into their home.  The challenge was that their house would be emptied of all foreign-made products and those made in America would remain.  The news team examined absolutely everything--furniture, electronics, appliances, musical instruments, sporting gear, and everyday necessities.  The result?  The family came back that night to an empty house with only a lone glass vase still standing in their living room. And this family is completely indicative of what has happened in America.

In the 1960s, 90% of products--that's 9 out of every 10--were made in America.  At the time, this even included electronics since we were the ones who virtually invented home appliances after World War II.  

In 1979, America reached our peak of production and today America only produces 50% of the products we buy.

So, you might ask, what happened in 1979?  One word:  globalization.

The fact is that globalization was both a good thing and a bad thing for the United States.  I'll focus here on a challenge it brought.  Companies around the world quickly learned that consumers were positively rabid for rock-bottom prices.  Thus, foreign companies jumped in the game to create cheaper products and American companies began to outsource in order to compete.  The absolute lowest possible price became the priority that consumers communicated to the companies, not necessarily quality, and the American brand began to lose strength.

Today U.S. companies continue to justify their outsourcing with the alleged high cost of manufacturing in America.  But with billions of dollars in profit on their balance sheets, they're clearly not hurting.  Outsourcing has ceased to be a necessity and now has become an example of unprecedented greed.  I, for one, believe they could invest that money in American employees to handle currently outsourced customer service (Call Centers, e.g.) and much of the manufacturing, especially since major corporations are given tax incentives here at home.    

On the consumer side, we've become far too shortsighted.  The reality of cheap goods is that they are anything but cheap.  Much like credit, what seems like a great low price now begets an infinitely higher price tag in the long term.  That dollar of savings to you now will end up costing you and everyone else in the country thousands of jobs in the not-too-distant future.  Currently we're buying 90% of products outside the United States, so that's where nearly alllllllllll of our money and our jobs are going.  It's a ripple effect.

Fortunately, the ripple effect can go both ways.  Economists say that if we only spent 1% more on American products a day--which is only 18 cents a day--it would result in 200,000 more jobs.  The issue of employment--or more accurately, unemployment--is truly in our hands.

So it's as clear as this--we vote for what we want with our wallet every day.  It's not a cliche, it's a simple fact of supply and demand.  Nothing speaks louder than money.  Companies want more of our money and thus respond to what our purchasing priorities are.  If our priority is to have the absolute lowest possible price, they will continue to outsource everything from our country.  If our priority is for American-made products, companies will absolutely adjust to that demand as well.  

Ironically, Americans are the last ones to appreciate their own brand.  Foreign countries already admire the American brand and it's quite a strong selling point around the world.  You may be surprised to learn that some big American companies are already selling "Made in America" versions of their products overseas as part of a premium line.  Why can't they do this same thing in America?  Perhaps this could be a way for the corporations to baby step their way into mass manufacturing in the United States again.   Companies could have a "Made in America" line much like there are now "organic" sections at the supermarket.

One sign that we haven't valued products made in America for some time is that it's actually a little challenging right now to find them.  There are blogs dedicated to the challenge such as China Ate My Jeans, which was started by a woman determined to only buy American-made products for a year.  ABC News also encountered the challenge when they attempted to refurnish the Texas family's house.  As a result, they put together a Resource Guide to find products that are made in America.  

Though the purpose of this article is to bring attention to buying more products made in the United States, let me be clear that a swing to complete isolationism is not necessary for there to still be a positive effect.  The experts acknowledge that we now live in a global economy and many foreign brands are of the highest quality and deserve your purchase.  Also there are still some cases where it actually makes sense for companies to manufacture items overseas.  But there is clearly vast room for improvement in how much can be purchased that is made in America.  

We have a great opportunity here and it's actually deceptively simple.  Innovating, manufacturing, and purchasing our own products is what has historically brought America great strength in the past--again, think of the boom after World War II--and it's what made us a global giant.  We just need to come together to refocus our resources and do it once again.  Companies and consumers need to be partners in this effort.  Companies who are currently outsourcing overseas need to start baby-stepping their way into bringing much of the customer service and manufacturing back home.  And consumers need to lead the way with a shift toward conscious choices instead of buying blind.  Whether you're at the grocery store, furniture store, the mall, or Bed Bath & Beyond, demand "Made in America" with your dollars.  It really does all start with you.


Beth said...

Wonderful, well written article. I think most people don't realize the power we have to make change with our purchases. Thank you!

Daniel Burch said...

Great article!
I saw this article as I was searching for more resources and other companies that are striving towards producing products that are made in America.
Our company strives to manufacture products that are made right here in the United States.
We are well on our way, but there are challenges, some of which are stated in this article.
For example, our manufacturing costs are higher, and at times it is difficult to aquire domestically produced material.

But our belief is that the investment in American made products will be a greater benefit to our customer, to American jobs and to our brand.
Though we have products that are made outside the U.S., we are striving to provide more and more products right here at home.
Our men's line of apparel is an area where we are achieving this goal.
In Europe and Asia our American made products are very popular.

Let's all work together to bring American Manufacturing back to where it belongs

Daniel Burch,
Managing Partner
Nadiflow Active Wear Apparel

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thank you! What's interesting in that talking to multiple manufacturers over the past few months is that the cost of doing business in America is actually becoming more comparable to the cost of outsourcing. Wages are getting higher overseas, the higher price of fuel associated with importing...the gulf is closing and companies are really starting to lose legit reasons in their claims that they absolutely have to outsource to survive. This is especially true of the giant corporations who have made such spectacular profits. There needs to a be swing toward manufacturing and employing staff within the United States, and I applaud companies like yours that have that as a priority and part of your mission. Thanks for sharing your story!

Tal Nudelman said...

Great article! We started our company with the aim of manufacturing the product in America and from day one posted "made with pride in the USA" on our site. The Great Recession has ravaged the economy and our jobs so we were adamant about helping alleviate this economic funk by keeping our manufacturing dollars at home.

We are always seeking to connect with Made In America groups, retailers, and companies to help expand the domestic efforts.

Personally I am purchasing all made in America products this Christmas to help reach the goal of 200,000 people to spending $64 on made America goods.

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thank you Tal! It's exciting to hear about more and more companies that have "Made in America" as one of their core values. It's also exciting to hear that we as consumers are so much more aware of where things are made and what a purchase "Made in America" can mean to us all. Good for you for leading by example this holiday season--what a gift to our economy today as well as helping to shape our future economy!

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