Manufacturing companies face a double-edged sword — whether to make products in America and spend more in labor costs, or whether to produce overseas and save on labor.
Local sentiment runs both sides of the table.
Mike Stewart, father of Condos And Trees founder Jennifer Stewart, proudly describes the family-owned businesses’ product as being made in “Northwood, Ohio, the USA.” CAT manufactures and retails at their Woodville Road store kitty condos.
|"Kitty Condos" are manufactured in
Northwood, Oh, the U.S.A.,"says Mike
Stewart. Above, John Habel works on a
cat condo. (Press photo by Ken Grosjean)
“I’m 100 percent (behind buying American),” Mike Stewart said. “If we don’t start buying American, we are going to lose America. We’ve seen that over the last eight to 10 years here.
“We expect small businesses to carry the economy and get the economy going again, but if you’re not going to buy America, how are small businesses going to do that? We can’t compete without buying American.”
If a company does manufacture overseas, it takes away American jobs. Companies have to consider what’s more important — their bottom-line or the impact on the American economy.
“What it’s doing is its taking jobs away from people in the United States, and if they don’t have a job, they don’t have any money,” said Paul Faykosh, co-owner of Centaur Tool & Die in Bowling Green.
“It all goes to the economy and some of these big corporations — all they worry about is their bottom line and profit in their pocket. All of us little guys are trying to keep employees working so they can earn a living and spend money and buy items in the United States.”
Joe Badger, a lifetime area resident who owns JBI Corp., an independent battery testing laboratory in Genoa, said, “It’s important. Big corporations — their values for their success is based on their stock price.
“If they want that price to go up, that means selling more products to increase their profits. But when everyone has a service job at McDonald’s and not a lot of things are made in the U.S. anymore, than it is counter-productive. You have got to have the jobs here to spend that kind of money.”
Steve Harmon of Spartan Logistics, a warehousing company with facilities in Oregon, says businesses have to rely on their bottom-line to survive. Harmon says for most of Spartan’s clients, it still makes sense to manufacture in America.
“(Scottish economist) Adam Smith said it best in The Wealth of Nations in 1776 — people should always go with the lowest source on law of comparative advantages. I tend to agree with what he wrote,” Harmon said. “I’m sure the major manufacturers that we work for are multi-national companies and they are always going to make a product for the least-manufactured cost.
“A lot of our products are from domestic sources — all the materials are here and the domestic weight is cost-prohibitive for the labor and materials to be shipped in, so they can’t fight the law of comparative advantages either and they are making sure they are effectively meeting their payroll costs. They may manufacture in Europe, but most of what we warehouse and distribute is manufactured domestically.”
Less choice today
Jon Theiss, owner of Industrial Equipment of Northern Ohio, Inc., which sells lawnmowers, garden tractors, utility vehicles and small industrial equipment, says American consumers don’t always have a choice.
“What’s tough on the tractor-side of it is you really can’t buy American made products anymore,” Theiss said. “You can’t do it — I don’t care if it’s John Deere, Case, IH (International Harvester), New Holland — the majority of that stuff is not made in America. It’s a world economy. The big guys build it wherever they want to build it and ship it wherever they want to ship it.”
Theiss says he’s finding that customers aren’t as concerned as they used to be about where products are made.
“It used to be more of an issue than what it is in recent memory. There are some people who come in that don’t want to buy anything unless it’s American-made,” Theiss said. “Those numbers are fewer than what they used to be.”
Along with American-made lawnmowers Theiss’ business sells, it offers a product-line made by a Japanese company which has a plant in Georgia that employs Americans.
“(The Japanese company) has actually invested millions and millions of dollars down in Georgia to quite frankly get away from unions and get to the right to work states so they can produce equipment competitively,” Theiss said.
In addition, Theiss says the Japanese company’s American facility has won general excellence service awards, but that doesn’t deter local sentiment.
“We have quite a bit of anti-Japanese sentiment because we have the ‘tied-to-Toledo, tied-to Detroit’ auto industry. I’m playing both sides of the fence because I’m selling Japanese tractors, but on the other hand, just like Honda, just like Nissan, just like Toyota, they’ve all built manufacturing facilities in the United States employing American workers, so it’s a double-edged sword.
“In the product-line we offer, the smaller-end lawnmowers are the American-made stuff. We even catch our fair share of slack when someone might see a belt made in Mexico, or a bearing made in China that’s on the product that’s supposed to be American made.”
Badger says his testing company, because it’s an independent lab, doesn’t contract directly with the companies that manufacture the product. But, he has had his share of experiences with foreign-made products.
“I try to get business from places all over the world and get their money and not send my money there. Actually, testing equipment and such, as much as possible I only buy USA-made products,” Badger said.
“Within the last six weeks I was in the market for an electronic shaker — which vibrates batteries, and the salesmen and the head of the company were here, and they were ready to sell it to me, and when I asked where it was made, they told me China, which was news to me. I managed to send them on their way.”
It’s on the label
At home in Genoa, Badger says he tries to buy American.
“We have clientele all over, but in my personal life I prefer to buy things that are made in the USA, but in a lot of cases it’s almost impossible for some reason. That being said, some products have a foreign name but they are made in the USA and the profits go back overseas.”
Oregon Economic Development Foundation director Lindsay Myers also tries to buy American, when she can.
“For me, personally, aside from my economic development job, I like buying locally — buying made in America stuff,” Myers said. “Personally, I don’t mind paying the extra couple of bucks that it cost to buy a product, or a piece of furniture I bought recently.
“A huge selling for me was, ‘Great. It’s made here in America — the fabric, the sofa, the chair — everything. It’s going to be good quality that’s going to hold up for a lifetime.’ But, are there certain things that just aren’t made in America that are a necessity for living? Yes. We’re a goods and services, needs and wants, supply and demand kind of economy and there are certain things we demand and we want that aren’t produced in America.”
For customers interested, where the product is made is typically on the label.
“Even the label on a battery will tell you whether it’s made in the USA, made in China, or made in Mexico. There is probably a law that they have to tell you where something is made, and it’s the same for a battery,” Badger said.