As Congress and state legislatures struggle with the sluggish economy, high unemployment and growing deficits, it may seem that a solution is out of reach.
That’s not the case. In fact, you and I can make a real difference with the choices we make every day.
The realization that consumers control the marketplace is fueling a burgeoning movement to “Buy American.” When consumers choose American-manufactured products, they support American jobs — the more products purchased, the more jobs created.
“Buy American” is not anti-trade, it is about consumer choice. Unfortunately, in recent years, the concept was hijacked by protectionist interests intent on imbedding their agendas in a maze of costly and confusing government restrictions on products that have foreign components.
That is not the way to go. At its core, Buy American should simply be about consumers making better choices.
Recently, ABC News profiled Anders Lewendal, a Bozeman, Mont. contractor who built a home using only American-made materials. Every nail, every screw, every piece of wood and metal, and all the paint was made in America. Lewendal, who has an economics degree, says that using just 5 percent more American products in construction projects would create 220,000 jobs.
The cost of Lewendal’s “American-made” home was just 1 percent higher than homes built with materials manufactured offshore.
Lewendal makes the point that, while American-made products can sometimes be more expensive than foreign goods, it’s worth it if the American product is of a higher quality. The old saying, “penny-wise and pound foolish” teaches us that cheaper products aren’t a good deal if they break down or fall apart. For example, Lewendal admits that American-made nails are more expensive, but they are higher quality, and jammed the nail guns far less than cheaper nails from China.
Those American nails were manufactured by Maze Nails in Peru, Ill., one of the last producers of nails in the U.S. Today, 90 percent of the nails sold in America come from China.
To help contractors and others find American materials, the ABC News website features an interactive map of producers across the U.S. — companies like Maze Nails in Illinois, Gorilla duct tape in Ohio, Sherwin Williams paints in Georgia, and Moen Faucets in Pennsylvania. Nineteen of the companies featured on that map are in Washington state.
Former “Cheers” actor John Ratzenberger is also at the forefront of supporting American manufacturers, and urges consumers to choose American products.
Ratzenberger is the face of “Buy American.” He is sounding the alarm about the shortage of skilled American laborers and craft workers, such as plumbers, pipe fitters, electricians, mechanics and welders. On his website, Ratzenberger notes, “We need to reinstate vocational training in skilled manual crafts. It’s alarming that the average age of industrial
workers today is 55, and the younger generation isn’t being equipped to take their place.”
The Buy American movement is highlighting the value of high quality, American-made products to shoppers accustomed to buying the cheapest nail, bolt or screw.
When consumers make decisions based solely on price, cheap foreign producers benefit. On the other hand, if we choose quality American products and materials, Americans benefit. Other nations ultimately lose market share, forcing them to step up their game, as well.
The Buy American movement shows that opportunities abound, even in the most dire situations. Economic crises refocus our attention on the basics, and while innovation and technology are still the keys to progress, we should not abandon or forget the skilled crafts — and crafts people — that are at the heart of the American workforce.
In the end, consumers, not government, control the marketplace. The choices we make are as powerful as any government edict or regulation.
Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state’s chamber of commerce. Visit http://www.awb.org.