I would love to see jobs come back and manufacturing get a big boost. It would help the economy and it would help provide more middle income jobs. And the faster jobs return, the better.
One of the big promises of the Trump campaign was to restore manufacturing back here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. And “Buy American” has been a much-repeated line used often since the inauguration… despite the fact that his, his wife’s and his daughter’s clothing lines are all manufactured overseas.
And while we hear the Presidential mantras, remember the “Made in the USA” ad campaigns of the ‘80s and read the constant stream of articles on offshored manufacturing, the question remains: How many of us really care where our goods are manufactured?
Short answer: not many. Long answer? Keep reading.
A recent article on CNN (read here) dug into the issue, following a swimsuit manufacturer and “Shark Tank” vet who tried—ultimately in vain—to produce her goods domestically. The company, NoNetz, was manufacturing their swimsuits in Brooklyn for $23 a suit. They struggled with sales even as people admired the product, losing would-be buyers with the high price. After consulting with the businessfolk of the “Shark Tank” TV series, the CEO of NoNetz was told to mind her bottom line and take her manufacturing overseas for a lowered landing cost of $10. (Fun fact: while they did take manufacturing overseas to save money, they do not appear to have lowered the price of their swimsuits at all)
The takeaway seems to be that Americans want to buy American, but they don’t want to pay too much for the domestic production. An AP poll found that around 75% of American shoppers wanted to buy American but ultimately chose the lowest priced product, never mind its country of origin. A study by the Boston Consulting Group found that our preference—and our willingness to pay—for American-made depended on the type of product being purchased. We’ll pay more for a perceived quality boost (we’ll spend more on American-made baby formula, but don’t want to pay more for shoes).
But even our perception of quality may be off. For years, we assumed—and most of us probably still assume—that products made in America were of a higher quality than those made overseas. Taking pride in our own work, perhaps. With the rise in automation, however, quality is determined more by materials and machine capabilities and less by individual worker skill. Materials and machine capabilities can be elevated anywhere, regardless of worker skill.
So the conclusion of the article isn’t really too far off from what most of us know: we want to buy American but our bottom line is more important than our patriotism. But there is some good news. It may still be possible for some manufacturing to return to the U.S. Boston Consulting figures that between wage hikes in China and an increase in oil costs, we’re on equal footing when it comes to manufacturing certain sectors of products, like appliances and computers. Clothing is still a long ways off, though.
As for the promise of jobs coming back… let’s give the President some time to see what he can accomplish. Just under two months in office is barely enough time to learn your way around the White House. Let’s all chill and see where the manufacturing numbers stand in a year.