In May, Made in America President and CEO Don Buckner sat down with Denise Simon of “The Denise Simon Experience” to discuss current reshoring trends and the consumer’s large role in the reshoring movement.
Denise Simon: At what point do we begin to really blame the fact that we don’t make much in America anymore? Does that go back to the 80’s or even further?
Don Buckner: There was a tipping point in 1998 when congress gave China temporary Most Favored Nation status. And then in 2000, one of the very last things that President Clinton did was give China permanent Most Favored Nation status. This basically removed all of the tariffs that had been in place for nearly 50 years. He basically started what I call the “Free Trade Experiment” which we now know was an absolute failure.
Denise: Competitive nations–when it comes to manufacturing–they don’t have a regulatory architecture that we have because of congress and government agencies. So, we have yet another whole headwind that domestic manufacturers have to compete with because we have all of these guidelines that China doesn’t have. Is that right?
Don: That is correct. That’s exactly why the tariffs were in place–so that U.S. manufacturers can compete. Because U.S. manufacturers cannot compete in a free market. We have wages and insurance we have to pay, along with lawyers and overhead. There is absolutely no way we can compete on a playing field that puts everything in their favor and moves the money offshore.
Denise: Has anybody done a study that determined the cost of manufacturing in the U.S. versus manufacturing offshore?
Don: That would be a very interesting study. I do know that the costs are about a quarter to a third of what it would be domestically. Consequently, a lot of those companies moved offshore to cut taxes.
Denise: So, we really have congress to blame for some of this. What do you think the fix is?
Don: The fix is actually twofold. One is to reinstate the tariffs that were prior to 2001. The second is, we as consumers have to look beyond the purchase. Our dollars have a bigger effect than we think. When we spend those dollars, we need to be very conscious of where those dollars are gonna go. It’s no different than boycotting this company or that company for whatever reason–except it’s on a much larger scale. We as consumers have the power of change in our products. We call it patriotic spending. Do the patriotic thing–spend American dollars on American-made products to save American jobs and ultimately save the American way of life. We as consumers have that power. When we buy Chinese or foreign products, we are sending our power along with our money to that country.
Denise: Isn’t it fascinating that we are sending those dollars to a communist country? Would you argue that countries other than China would be better for our sovereignty?
Don: We focus solely on American manufacturing because that is the best possible option for our country. The more times American dollars change hands in this country, the more wealth is created. Wealth is created when somebody buys something and when somebody receives money. The only way to create wealth is to keep that money in circulation.
Denise: There seems to have been a Made in America movement started where we are starting to move things back within the last 3 or 4 years. Is that right?
Don: Under this current administration we’ve been very pro-American. Businesses aren’t going to set up in America unless the demand and profit are there. Those two things have to happen. We as consumers have control of both of those. If we decide to buy only American-made products, that creates demand and forces businesses to come back and make American-made products.
Denise: So, is the challenge to put pressure on the retailers to force them to return to the U.S.?
Don: Yes, there’s a lot of deception in our labeling right now. A lot of items are listed as ‘designed’ or ‘assembled’ in America, but they’re not truly Made in USA. If we all decided to walk into Walmart or Amazon demanding American-made products, they would wake up and make initiatives to sell American products. Walmart has actually started an initiative to do that because they want to lose that image that all of their products are Made in China.
Denise: We’re clearly finding out that pharmaceuticals are coming from China, so there is that movement to reshore that industry. We have some other manufacturers here that call themselves American companies, but they use foreign parts. We have to put some pressure on them as well, correct?
Don: Yes. There’s been a lot of multinational companies that have diluted the value of the brand ‘Made in USA’ or ‘Made in America’. They’ve diluted the definition by making it so that a certain portion of a car or other product is made in America and that means that they can claim it’s specifically Made in USA. The Coronavirus has woken us up to make significant movement and bills put into place that would bring back our sovereignty in at least the medical world. We are in a very vulnerable place right now.
Denise: China has a program called The Thousand Talents. They send people here to the United States to steal our innovation and intellectual property and bring it back to their country. I would argue that we could do the same thing that would possibly come from the Department of Labor or the Department of Commerce. Shouldn’t we begin to have somewhat of the same program to encourage innovation and keep it here in the U.S.?
Don: I agree. Foreign entities have infiltrated through money by funding the innovation programs in our universities. We have to create some policies to get the fox out of the hen house and that hasn’t happened yet.
Denise: This is going to take a lot of deregulation on the federal and state level. In order to get this going and have some real traction, this could take some time, right?
Don: So, it took us 20 years to get where we are now. The only way to go is up now in my opinion. Hopefully, we’ve woken enough people up in this country to the fact that we don’t need to send our hardworking American dollars to China. If we can wake enough people up to that idea then we will make an impact. Our goal is to change 5% of the spending in America in a positive way. Then there’s a ripple effect so that the money is spent again and again into the U.S. economy. It just takes a few passionate people to make a change.
Denise: What is your biggest frustration in all that you have learned so far in this quest to go back to Made in America?
Don: Good question. The two comments I get are, “I can’t afford America-made products because they’re expensive” or, “everything’s made in China.” Those are the two biggest ideas that have infiltrated our economy and that’s what people think. MadeinAmerica.org is a very strong educational campaign to educate consumers on the importance of buying American-made products. The long-term benefit is that wealth is created every time money is traded between hands. It’s keeping that money in this country that will be important in having any significant effect.
Denise: The media talks about how nationalism is a bad thing. Made in America is nationalism–and I would say that it’s positive and patriotic. Are you finding some critique when it comes to nationalism versus patriotism?
Don: Those voices have weaned especially now with the virus and the situation we’re in, but that’s true. 10 years ago, if you talked about nationalism or protectionism, you were a neanderthal. It was anti-American. We are super excited that the message has turned and the pendulum seems to be swinging back in the right direction.
Denise: It looks like the Pentagon and the Department of Defense are required if at all possible to buy American first before they can go offshore. I think some of that movement has given some traction. Is that about right?
Don: Yeah, I agree. My question is, how in the world did we ever get away from that? Because our sovereignty is in our military–if our military relies on foreign entities to provide parts and supplies, we might as well not have a military. Supply chains are very vulnerable and have significant issues. It goes beyond the military too. Every local and state government needs to spend American tax dollars on American companies. Otherwise they can’t continue to pay taxes–the cheapest thing is not the best option.
Denise: Tell us about the Made in America trade show.
Don: We had our first trade show last October in Indianapolis with 270 manufacturers and it was great. This year, we’re doing it again in Detroit in October, so we’re really excited. We’re accepting sponsors, attendees and exhibitors right now. We’re just trying to show that manufacturing is the backbone of our country and that American dollars need to be invested into these American companies.
Denise: We have a real educational process on our hands. We need trade skills and other lanes that need to be addressed. Is there any certain thing that needs to happen first?
Don: We believe that it starts with the consumer. When a consumer buys American-made products, American manufacturing increases. Then, they need more labor, which would mean more educational training for workers. So, it starts with the consumer and how they spend their dollars.
Denise: Well Don, I think the burden right now is twofold. It’s on the federal government to lift those regulatory issues–which they are working on–and then we have the consumer.
Denise: There you have it. Head over to Don’s website at MadeinAmerica.com to learn about the trade show and American-made companies they support.
To listen to the full interview, click here.