Made in America Challenge Part Two

Have you been watching the ABC World News Made in America Challenge?

I thought the first night to be quite interesting. Unfortunately, I missed the second night. Last night, they had the big reveal, which showed a pretty well stocked house. Tonight, they are talking price and the things they still couldn’t find to replace in the home.

If you click on the link above, you will find some pretty interesting information, including what companies that might surprise you that no longer produce their goods in the U.S.

Mat made some valid points in his comments from the post on Tuesday, thanks, Mat. My interest isn’t in getting involved in some lost cause, bringing back jobs long gone. As Bruce Springsteen sang, “Foreman says these jobs are going boys, and they ain’t coming back to your hometown.”

But I do think there is validity in trying to see if we can keep the remaining companies from going overseas. We have a huge trade deficit, importing many more goods than we export. I think many Americans, particularly those that rely on whatever manufacturing jobs remain, would be interested in at least keeping that trade deficit from growing any larger.

In many instances, it means only paying a few cents more per product to purchase items Made in America. ABC News reported on Monday night that if we spent only .18 cents more per day, on average, buying Made in America products, 200,000 jobs could be created (I didn’t catch the number of consumers it would take to do that).

We’re all on budgets, but I also know what it would be like if Dale’s large boat production company decided to move the plant overseas. The company laying off 1/3 of their employees in 2008 crippled our town, moving and closing the plant would wipe it out.

If we can stop and ask ourselves each time we make a purchase, even if we don’t make that many “is this made in the U.S. and if not, is there an alternative product I can buy that is?” a neighbor may get to keep their job and a community may go on thriving.

Again, there is also the environmental factor. Shipping something from across the state or even across the country is much more sustainable than shipping it from around the world.

Here are some tips that might make the Made in America Challenge easier for you:

  • Check the labels and read them carefully, even your food, many companies that are U.S. based will have the company name and list a city and state. Down further, however, it might say, “Made in China.”
  • Check the label, even if it is from a well-known company you “think” may produce in the U.S. For example, Kim commented the other day that she believed her Kitchen Aid mixer is still produced in the U.S. It is, but their food processors, including the one I purchased, is now Made in China. As with our Le Creuset steel stockpot, which we “assumed” was made in France, just like their enamelware cast iron cookware, but was not.
  • Comparison shop. If there is a choice, how much more, really, are you paying for an item Made in the U.S. and realistically, can you afford it.
  • If you cannot find an item Made in the U.S. in the store, do you need it today (something we always ask ourselves anyway, due to limited space and how much we should really be bringing in), or can it wait until you can do some online research? Is it something that would be a cool retro item and can an early American made counterpart be found in a thrift or antique shop (as Kim pointed out, many old kitchen utensils can still have a long life in your home).

If you’ve watched the series, what has been your reaction? Did you really start looking around your home or think about purchases you were making this week?

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27 Responses

  1. The made in america concept…will never be realized as long as there are Walmarts and such in most towns. I remember reading somewhere that well over 90% of everything that was sold in a walmart is of chinese origin…I personally do not shop at Walmart and hope to never “have to” unfortunately most americans do not feel the same way I do…and they do not have a choice…They go to the only store in town to buy a new “whatever” and it is cheap, at walmart, and chinese. Walmart drove out the Mom and Pop shops because they sold cheaper stuff…now there is no longer an option to buy elsewhere.

    • kerri says:

      Good to “see” you here again, Moontree! That is exactly what happened in our small town. We don’t buy a lot of goods, but we are forced to shop at Wal Mart for a lot of grocery purchases. I do go to the larger town and buy meat and organic products we feel we can afford at the mom and pop natural food stores.

  2. Alexandra says:

    We have a great small department store here on Cape Cod called Snow’s. I talked to some knowledgeable salespeople the other day and they lamented how hard it is for their buyer to find stuff that is not Made in China. This has to change.

  3. Vida says:

    Hi Kerri,

    As you know I have been very busy and have not had time to comment lately, although I follow your posts with interests. However I feel strongly about your last two posts, so here is MHO:

    Sophisticated economies of developed countries like the USA no longer have manufacturing as as the backbone of the economy. As economies mature they move on to more service oriented and high technology industries. They stay competitive through research and development that permits innovation and the invention of new products and services to sell to the rest of the developed world. Invariably these products are produced in other countries where labour is cheaper. This is the unavoidable law of profit by which large industries operate, there is no getting around it. To try to prevent this natural progression from a manufacturing based economy to one based on more sophisticated industries that require a level of technology and education that only a handful of countries can boast as yet today, is like trying to prevent a snake from shedding its skin. What is more, in the long run it only serves to make America less competitive. Those 200,000 jobs perhaps saved today could translate into millions lost tomorrow.

    I am not against supporting local artisans or buying local produce. However anything larger than this scale will invariably succumb to the juggernaut of globalization unless they innovate and create a niche or product that cannot be produced ex-USA.

    There are many things that Americans can do to help themselves and there nation but that is a whole other topic! This particular endeavour seems misguided and ineffective.

    • Vida says:

      Ugh, typos… sorry.

    • kerri says:

      I don’t disagree, Vida. We are no longer a nation relying totally on manufacturing. What I disagree with is that we’re a nation with a soaring trade deficit. We have a lot of problems here: An educational system that is not preparing our youth for these new jobs and technologies and a HUGE population of mid-life to older Baby Boomers (the Baby Boom officially ended just days after my birth on Jan. 1, 1964, making the youngest of this generation just 47 years old, with 20 or more years working ahead of them) that were never trained for anything but these manufacturing jobs and in most instances, cannot be retrained at this late stage for these type of high tech industries. I respectfully disagree. There is simply no reason for our trade deficit to grow at the rate it has been growing (thee is no reason, for example, that we get most of our garlic from China or our Avacados from Mexico or that we cannot even find one coffee maker produced here or an enamelware cast iron cookpot), continuing to put Americans out of work, except for greed. Greed on the part of corporations and greed on the part of the American people who continue to demand everything for a cheaper price. Even artisans, from potters to rug makers and other home decor people, have been undercut by people being paid $1 an hour in China whose wares are now sold at Wal-Mart. There’s simply no reason for it and these are the goods and services I’m talking about. Not the steel, car parts or even electronic goods for which overseas economies are now partly based. I realize the days of Zenith making televisions here is long gone, but there is simply no reason that 1 of 10 products in the American home – that big of a number – is from overseas and I contend that it does hurt our economy when things are THAT unbalanced.

      • kerri says:

        Using the mattress example again, because this is the largest item we’ve purchased in the past several years. We purchased a very high quality mattress, made not more than 2 hours from our home, rather than purchasing a high end, more well known product now made in China. I see no reason why we shouldn’t advocate for a). Keeping those jobs in this state and b). Having something shipped from 2 hours away to the store and then to our house is much more sustainable than having it shipping by sea in a shipping container from China and then by land across the country to a store near us. That just doesn’t make sense to me on either level.

      • Vida says:

        Hi Kerri,

        I am in agreement with you as to the motivations behind how corporations and individuals function i.e greed but I think that this is an absolute that has to be factored into any plan to revive the economy. It is futile to imagine that this will ever change, we are talking about human nature here!

        The answer to a soaring trade deficit is not to try to produce the same goods and products at competitive prices with countries that have much cheaper costs of living and a labour force just emerging from poverty and thus willing to work for less. It goes back how what I said before, America has to export its strengths: innovative technologies, sophisticated services in all sectors and brand new products.

        Granted, the USA used to be the absolute leader in all this, hence her once mighty and nimble economy. However many nations are scrambling to develop precisely these resources because they have realized that the way to greatness does not lie in the ability to produce good garlic. It has been mentioned here that the key lies in educating your children to the highest levels. I could not agree more. As a matter of fact, I think that a grassroots endeavour to get kids to read would be much more useful than any Made in America project. Let “Made in America” refer to the genius who finds the cure for cancer or who invents a perfectly renewable energy source that is economically viable.

        Finally I wonder if Made in America is a dream. Are you sure that the products you buy do not have their raw materials shipped in from abroad? Perhaps it would be better to say “Assembled in America”… Your mattress, for example. Where does the cotton or wool that makes up the mattress come from. And the steel of the springs, the thread of the stitching? My point is that any factory that relies wholly on more expensive home produced raw material, using more expensive home labour but who does not charge a correspondingly more expensive price to its customers is not going to remain in business very long.

        I am as distressed by the victims of economies in they transition as much as you, because they are innocent. They did no wrong! They worked hard all their lives, but find themselves jobless and rendered obsolete by a rapidly moving global economy. However it is the duty of your government to provide for these people. Quite simply, movements like “Made IN America” will not bring these lost jobs back in any significant amount. If it has any impact whatsoever it will be negative in the larger picture, especially for future generations of Americans.

        • kerri says:

          And maybe more to the point, I don’t believe in total globalization as it doesn’t make sense environmentally or for any economy. Germany, if I’m not mistaken, is one developed nation that is growing their manufacturing as part of their economy. Why is it working there? I certainly do not see Germany falling behind in technology and science because of it. I don’t see France falling behind because a portion of their economy depends on manufacturing, including making Le Creuset cookware. Those countries seem to be doing both and I’m not sure there’s any other country in the world where 1 in 10 products in the home are made elsewhere.
          The thread, the steel and maybe even the cotton production is already gone, that’s the point. Personally, I will not contribute to 200 more people losing their jobs in a 100 year old plant in small town Arkansas when I can buy their item “assembled” here for just a few bucks more.
          I understand that some goods need to be produced overseas. I understand that the evolution of an economy depends on the evolution of the people adapting to new technologies, etc. But I do not understand why EVERY single thing that is made for the consumer market has to be made overseas. If we can’t find an American made coffee pot, fine, but I think we can be a nation that produces as well as a nation that exports our innovative ideas and technology. My point is that there should be enough jobs for everyone with every skill level. The other problem I have is where it is being produced. Every other week, we are bombarded with news about recalls on mainly Chinese made goods, because they contain lead in their paint, melamine in their dog food/treats or even tainted baby formula. Why in the world is baby formula and dog food even being manufactured a half of a world away in a country that uses chemicals that were banned a half a century ago here? My dogs do not eat anything that comes from China and if I had little ones, they wouldn’t be playing with toys full of lead paint. I’m all for reading initiatives, I’m all for unionized teachers and for the almighty dollar being taken out of the education equation, but at the same time, I’m interested also in making sure Americans who depend on someone buying that 1 in 10 piece of American made (or assembled) product will continue to have a job on Monday and if their children do not have the money to go to college or was not prepared for it in our educational system, they will have a job, too, if they want it when they graduate.

          • Vida says:

            Kerri, I agree with the broad sweep of your arguments but I don’t agree with how to achieve your goals. If manufacturing is to survive in the USA it has to be able to do so in fierce competition to other countries that produce high quality products at reasonable prices. This means that its standards and costs of productions have to be world class. The companies that survive to prosper have to do so without the support of Americans and campaigns like Made in America. Backing inefficient factories and industries simply because they are American only prolongs the pain. It would be a bad allocation of precious resources. These factories WILL eventually shut down, it is the law of economics. I’m trying to say that the Made in America project is like feeding vitamins to a cancer patient. It makes people who participate feel good, feel like they are doing something to help their nation. But the real battle is being fought elsewhere. The survivor industries of manufacturing will beat the cancer only mutating into a stronger organism. Case in point: Germany. You are right, their manufacturing base is growing but this is NOT because Germans are buying more German made products. No, the rest of the world are buying more German made products.

            As for Made in China, it has been a convenient tool for the press and people to vilify. Much like there has been much hysteria about Rottweilers and Pitbulls in the world of dogs, so we have been bombarded by stories of lead paint toys and poisoned animal food. I am not saying that these stories are untrue, I am saying that they do not represent the entire standard for Chinese products. This is a huge topic that involves many other factors so I content myself with only saying here we should judge each case individually. Blame the company that produces the products but don’t blame them because they are Chinese. American companies have done their fair share of poisoning their own citizens and those of the world (tobacco, pharmaceuticals, agricultural products, pesticides come to mind) but they should be blamed as a wrongful company, not as a wrongful American company. Hey, what about the grievous harm that financial companies like Goldman Sachs has inflicted upon the American economy and the rest of the world? Should we judge them as Americans or as Goldman Sachs? Does this mean that the entire American banking system is corrupt beyond repair?

            I applaud your wanting to save American jobs. I just think that this is not the way to do it. Of the American workers who have lost their jobs some will survive and prosper. These will be the ones who manage to reinvent themselves. Many will fall by the wayside. These are the ones who cannot change. The Made in America Campaign only misallocates resources to inefficient and inflexible industries. The workers in these industries will have even less time to adapt when their companies fold up…slightly later.

          • kerri says:

            We’ll just have to agree to disagree, Vida. Part of my argument is that the American companies that do remain know they must be the best to remain effective and to remain in business. The American factory workers I’ve met doing many stories on businesses, take great pride in what they do. They realize they’re a part of a global economy and know they have to be the best at what they do in the world. As for Chinese made products, their oversight for chemicals is obviously not what it is in the U.S., or lead wouldn’t be allowed in paint for anything and melamine wouldn’t have found its way into pet food products. And yes, I agree that America has done its share of poisoning the planet and this is a battle progressive Americans fight on a daily basis. However, at least many of the chemicals still used in Chinese manufacturing has been banned here and has been, in some instances, for decades. As for the American banking system, many of us wouldn’t disagree it is corrupt, that it wasn’t just Goldman. But, we never give up hope that we can make it better. 🙂

          • Vida says:

            Hi Kerri, It was a pleasure to have had this “conversation” with you.

          • kerri says:

            And you as well, Vida. I love hearing other’s perspectives, especially global ones.

  4. mat says:

    Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad) talks a great deal about education. And while I disagree with certain aspects of what he has to say, the fundamental message is undeniable: There needs to be educational change if kids are going to improve their lot in life.
    America was made great by people who knew better than the rest of the world. We were in the right place at the right time, and rose to the challenge. But we have lost that advantage.
    I was pessimistic in my comments before; I’ve seen a lot of movements like this that come stomping in from The Right or pulling at you from The Left. And the answer is not political. The answer is that moving forward means embracing where you’ve been and trying to make better where you’re going. And that always starts at home.

  5. Points well taken, Kerri. I will be more cautious from now on.

  6. Sheryl says:

    The ABC Series has made me relook at the items in our house. We plan to move to our smaller house (900 sft) in a year or two — and we’ve already promised ourselves that any replacement furniture or new appliances _will be_ made in America. I think our current house might look like the one on TV if we started looking at where the items came from. I think Americans in general like to complain about lack of jobs in the US, but on the other had don’t really want to pay for American manufacturing. It seems we focus on shopping for the best “deal”.
    I live in a small town with several locally owned stores (in addition to big box stores) and there is a big push from our chamber of commerce to “buy local”, and keep the jobs in town. We all just need to expand that idea to American products.

    • kerri says:

      I was very surprised that they found appliances made in the U.S., Sheryl, but they never found a coffee maker.
      You’re right. A lot of people have started looking at their fresh fruits and veggies in that regard. One campaign in KC was “Buy Fresh, Buy Local.” The signs were all over the produce departments in stores. We just need to expand that to Buy American Made, period.

  7. Olivia says:

    I haven’t been watching the series but I do understand about plant closings. A lobster processing plant has just closed in one of our rural areas and 120 people are now out of work.It was pretty well the only game in town for that area. That is a lot for a province that only has 140,000 inhabitants altogether and it’s not the first to close in recent years, moving their operation to a larger province.

    Unfortunately, it is also something we are all too accustomed to, here. We’re too small to bother about, I guess.

    However, like it or not, we are now in a global economy and we have to find some way of moving forward, accepting the losses as well as the gains. I guess we are in a transitional period between the Industrial Age and the Age of Technology. My kids and their generation look at things so differently.

    • kerri says:

      Oh, that is sad for that plant, Olivia. We saw a lot of stories just like that coming out of the Gulf last year. Small businesses that had been in business for decades and people who were 2nd and 3rd generation workers at the plant. We saw the same thing happen in our small community back in the 80s. It was founded as a railroad town with RR and industries that supported moving goods by the tracks. By the time we graduated high school, getting a job at the RR was almost as common as winning the lottery. Yet, our school system had not changed and prepared students for anything but a blue collar job. I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with the global economy/technology age argument if our education system was preparing our young people for that. As well, there will always be those people who just aren’t college material. There has to be some jobs for them.

      • Olivia says:

        Some education systems are doing just that, especially those in the developing world who are bypassing the industrial age and going straight from peasant to technology. And that is where the developed world is falling behind because we are still operating on the old model. At least the suits are – the kids are something else. It will take awhile to implement, however. My youngest child used computers from the day he started kindergarten while my 2 older kids – who are only 2 years and 5 years older than the youngest – really didn’t use computers a lot until high school (grade nine in Canada). Of course, they went to French school and the model was based on an older European educational method.The youngest went to a different school that was based on technology and he has a whole different approach to things than the rest of us – and never went to college. I am not familiar with the American model.

        I think the kids will figure it out. They’ll have to. Still, it’s hard on the generation that is caught between but I suppose no worse than the Great Depression or a World War or anything else that previous generations had to deal with.

        I don’t know. It’s beyond me. I like the way you think, Kerri – you have a very fair and open minded approach to life.

        • kerri says:

          The rest of the world is surpassing the U.S. in education. If you’ve seen any of the fighting going on in Wisconsin, this is indicative of the system that places more emphasis on budgets than the education system. Thanks, for the conversation, Olivia!