Most Americans know John Ratzenberger as “Cliff Claven” from the hit television show “Cheers,” but in recent years, he has taken up the cause of American manufacturing.
Ratzenberger grew up in Bridgeport, Conn. where manufacturing “hummed through the streets,” as he put it. “My heroes were the tool and die makers and the factory workers. Manufacturing is in my DNA.”
Host of “John Ratzenberger’s Made in America” on the Travel Channel, Ratzenberger highlights manufacturers from around the country and pays homage to the men and women who work in America’s factories.
“There aren’t many companies anymore who completely manufacture their products in the U.S.,” Ratzenberger said.
Ratzenberger has also published a book entitled “We've Got it Made in America: A Common Man's Salute to an Uncommon Country.” Like his Travel Channel show, the book salutes the American factory worker and is coupled with thought-provoking essays on American life.
A major concern of Ratzenberger’s is the export of manufacturing jobs overseas and the future of American manufacturing, coupled with the rise of China in the global manufacturing industry.
“The average factory worker is 52 right now. Soon those workers will be retiring and we will be in trouble,” Ratzenberger said. “After President Clinton signed the final NAFTA agreement, that big sucking sound we heard was our jobs going overseas, as Ross Perot put it. It was amazing that the CEO of Mattel, a major American company, was apologizing to China. I never thought I would see the day.”
Ratzenberger is currently touring the country in partnership with the Alliance for American Manufacturing in an attempt to bring the plight of the American factory worker to the forefront of the presidential race. Targeting voters in key states like Iowa and New Hampshire, Ratzenberger will encourage voters attending these town hall meetings to ask presidential candidates to disclose where they stand on issues relating to American manufacturing, including the controversial issue of exporting jobs overseas.
“I’m proud to partner with AAM on the ‘Keep it Made in America’ Town Hall Series. I’ve traveled all across this country and I’ve seen firsthand how manufacturing drives our economy. Our manufacturers, workers and their communities are the heart and soul of America,” said Ratzenberger. “In this presidential election, we have a chance to make the voices of American manufacturing heard in places like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina where it matters first. We're going to educate and inspire voters to ask the candidates the hard questions about jobs and to find out how they will 'Keep it Made in America'.”
According to Ratzenberger, many politicians refer to the U.S. economy as a “service-based” economy, but he doesn’t feel this is the right way to look at America’s economic future.
“When I ask what their son or daughter does and they answer ‘stockbroker,’ or ‘works at McDonalds.’ I say ‘OK, then who is making the products they sell’?” Ratzenberger explains. “Everything in our economy comes down to manufacturing. Take national security. Most weapons and bullets are not made in America. Talk about a security issue. You definitely want to oversee that process.”
Another issue Ratzenberger is concerned with is the elimination of shop classes from American school systems.
“It is a shame that kids don’t have shop class,” Ratzenberger said. “When filling out some job applications, individuals may be asked to mark specific points on a sample ruler as part of the application and most graduates can’t do it. This is because of the lack of shop and home economics classes in the schools.”
According to Ratzenberger, a better model for trade education is the German method, where students are asked at a young age to pick either a craftsperson’s education track or a college preparatory track, but respect and value is given to both groups of students.
“We Americans have to respect those who are in the manufacturing industry and not just those who went to college,” Ratzenberger said. “The Germans respect their tradesmen.”
An inventor in his own right, Ratzenberger developed packaging alternatives made from biodegradable and non-toxic recycled paper in 1989 as en eco-friendly alternative to Styrofoam "peanuts” in 1989. The “Quadra-pack” was quickly adopted by big-name companies such as Hallmark, Elizabeth Arden, and Nordstrom.
When asked if he could develop any new product, what would he produce, Ratzenberger thought for a moment and then responded “I would make a kit that would interest kids in tinkering again and going outside. Skinning your knees is better than staying inside playing video games - or making wine bottles,” Ratzenberger joked. “I like wine bottles.”
Editor’s Note: Ratzenberger’s show, “John Ratzenberger’s Made in America,” can be seen on the Travel Channel Tuesday nights and his book, “We've Got it Made in America: A Common Man's Salute to an Uncommon Country,” can be purchased through the Manufacturing.net bookstore. For more on the ‘Keep it Made in America’ tour, visit www.americanmanufacturing.org.