We live in a time of a globalized economy—no one knows this better than those in manufacturing. With competition literally rising from the smoke stacks in China and India, among a bevy of other countries, there is no doubt that most of what’s sold in America is longer made here. And as we continue (or stop, as we have recently) to consume, we’re perpetuating a damaging cycle: American jobs are being shipped overseas because of the shoddy economy, and yet we are unable to fix said economy because the money we spend on those foreign-made goods doesn’t stay within our borders.
I know Food Manufacturing’s readers would prefer that all (or at least a vast majority of) the products—whether it’s food, toys, electronics, or even cars—were made right here in the U.S., managed by companies headquartered in one of our major cities. In this ideal world, an honest manufacturing job could be found almost anywhere, and one could earn a good salary for his or her work. Even better, the money consumers spend would get turned right around into making better products and producing more jobs—a cycle that’s just about the opposite of the contemporary reality. But this utopian vision of American manufacturing has long since passed. It’s simply not in the cards anymore.
All this brings me to a simple question about the origins of the products we buy. Would you rather buy a product that is American-managed, yet built overseas, or a product that is managed from overseas, yet built in America?
I’ll use cars as an example, since the automotive industry is almost synonymous with manufacturing. Let’s just pretend there isn’t any middle ground here, even though we both know automaking isn’t a simple equation of either/or. You have two choices: 1) buy from company A, which is headquartered in Atlanta but builds their cars in Mexico, using parts from Indian and Chinese supplies; or 2) company B, which is headquartered in Osaka, Japan, and builds a fleet of vehicles in Mississippi using parts from Ohio and Michigan.
Each side seems to be a Catch-22 with limited benefits. Take the first choice. According to a recent article from CNN, most of the long-term benefits for America—like job creation—occur when one buys from company A, regardless of where the vehicle is actually made. With more funds being channeled to the corporate headquarters in Atlanta, the company is better able to produce superior products and reel in more employees. So while a great number of foreign workers are getting paid for A’s vehicles, the aggregate benefit still lies within our borders.
But take the opposite side of the coin. When you buy a vehicle from company B, a chunk of your money leaves the U.S. for Japan, where it helps create more corporate jobs for the citizens of Osaka—definitely not ideal when the American economy needs all the help it can get. But at the same time, part of your dollar goes straight to hard-working Americans, like the people at Hyundai’s Montgomery, Ala. plant. In a sense, you’re paying for that working class that helped bring America to its international status in the last century.
But I’m not here to make any arguments—I’m just curious to know what Food Manufacturing’s readers think. It comes down to a simple, yet almost impossible decision—between the American worker and the American corporation. With all other factors leveled out, would you rather purchase a vehicle managed from America but made overseas, or vice versa?
Yes, I made this difficult on purpose. Truth is, the decision to buy a car nowadays isn’t this cut-and-dry—there’s things like safety ratings, price, and fuel economy to think about. But the core issue here is that we, as a country, need to come to terms with a globalized economy, and we have to learn how to be consumers in world where a single product might hail from three different continents, excluding our own. It’s our ideology that matters right now, even when a normally complex issue is dumbed down like this. The way we think about this problem right now will have a major impact in how we approach the issue of rescuing American manufacturing in the next 5 or 10 years.
So share your thoughts with me at Joel.Hans@advantagemedia.com, and let me know if we can reproduce your comments—anonymously or with only a first name attached—on this very page. I look forward to the discussion.