Spreading the Word – American Made Matters

Spreading the word — American Made Matters

BY:  29 JULY 2011

Remember those “look for the Union label” commercials back in the 1970s and early 1980s?

The group responsible for those ads was the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) as an attempt to bring attention to a phenomenon that was a clear threat to the loss of jobs in that industry — cheap labor available in the third world. So, let’s see if this sounds familiar to anyone — companies were talking about expensive labor, protecting their bottom lines, cutting costs in orders to compete, etc. We all know what happened to the textile industry — jobs were lost to foreign countries in droves starting in the 1970s and that trend continues.

To have a look at an IGLWU commercial from 1978 to see if the themes within sound a bit familiar, just click here. That campaign wasn’t exactly a success as evidenced by how few articles of clothing are made in the U.S.

Don Rongione, president and chief executive officer of Bollman Hat Co. in Adamstown, Penn., said his company has been around since 1868 and — like other businesses in the textile industry — has felt the pinch from foreign competition. Rongione said his company isn’t unionized, but does share a common goal with those organizations — to keep jobs in the United States.

That goal, he said, prompted him to launch Save an American Job — a project that now operates as American Made Matters — on July 4, 2009. That group partners with companies that manufacture products in the United States and gives them the tools to brand their products with an “American Made Matters” logo so as to let consumers know when they’re purchasing domestic products.

Rongione said it is critical to get people interested in purchasing American products as the nation has lost millions of jobs in Manufacturing. According to the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, over 5 million manufacturing jobs — close to one-third of all jobs in that sector — vanished from the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. Rongione said those losses translate into jobs being shed in support industries — truckers, research and development workers, suppliers, etc. all rely on the manufacturing industry to thrive. Some of those support jobs, of course, are saved when manufacturing jobs leave the country. Truck drivers, for example, are still needed to haul goods to stores like Wal-Mart regardless of where products are made.

Still, Rongione argues that keeping manufacturing local also tends to keep support industries local. When a manufacturing jobs leaves the country, he said it takes four to five support industry jobs with it.

The American Made Matters labels, then, are part of an overall attempt to curb those job losses and to, perhaps, encourage other manufacturers to establish jobs in the United States. Rongione said a sluggish economy, in his view, has caused some shoppers to search for American-made products and the labels can help them locate those items.

“There’s no question in my mind there is a movement back to buying American made products,” he said. “There seems to be a growing awakening among consumers that it does matter. They’re starting to look again for U.S.A.-made products.”

Since American Made Matters was started, 34 companies and sponsors have joined the effort. What must a company do to join and use the organization’s branding to steer consumers to its products?  At least 50 percent of the cost of the branded product (cost includes labor, materials and overhead) and final assembly must take place in the U.S. The “50 percent” requirement is there as it is impossible for some companies to buy components for their products that is made in the U.S.

Those businesses, Rongione said, want to produce items here buy ought not be penalized is they use some imported products in their processes.

In addition to the labeling, Rongione said members get a link on the American Made Matters Internet site that lists the companies. Rongione said the listings exist as a service to consumers and retailers  — finding companies that manufacture in the U.S. can be a challenge, and the service can help those buyers locate American companies.

Membership costs $40 a month, a sponsorship costs $25 a month and consumers can sign up for free to an email list that distributes news and information about members and the organization.

Rongione said his company has, in fact, found some customers through the program and from people out looking to buy American-made products. Will the program prove effective? It’s only been operating for a little over two years, so Rongione said only time will tell. He did say the effort is not as political in nature as some that may be operating out there — American Made Matters is not a lobby group, does not show preference to unions and was built on the notion that consumers are the only ones with enough economic clout to create a demand for products made in the U.S.

Will that philosophy turn the tide? Again, only time will tell.

Click here for more articles in this series.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email =Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

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