By most measures, 2011 was a great year for American manufacturing. Overall industrial production rose, as did capacity utilization. Durable goods orders showed a positive overall trend, and home sales have started to tick upward as well. The manufacturing industry ended 2011 on a strong note and 2012 is looking positive.
While buying American-made products is one of the best things you can do for our manufacturing economy, here is a list of three other things you can do to help.
1. Check “Made In” Labels as Much as You Check Brand Labels
I’m a marketer by trade, and I know the power that brands can have over consumers. Corporations capitalize on this fact to increase their bottom line, which by itself is not harmful. However, many famous companies have hid behind their brand equity while quietly offshoring manufacturing.
No where is this more prevalent than the clothing industry. Iconic American brands like Levi’s, Chuck Taylors and Ralph Lauren have moved virtually all manufacturing overseas. We now make less than 2% of the clothing we consume here.
In 2012, vow to check “Made In” labels as much as you check brand labels. Start weighing where and how a product is made as much as you weigh the fancy name.
2. Encourage Your Kids to Consider Manufacturing Careers
There are over 600,000 manufacturing jobs currently available and a severe shortage of people that have the skills fill them. A recent study showed that 67% of manufacturers surveyed are having trouble filling positions and concluded that “These results underscore the tenacity of a worsening talent shortage that threatens the future effectiveness of the U.S. manufacturing industry.”
Many of us have misconceptions about manufacturing jobs. The truth is most manufacturing jobs are both high-tech and high-pay. Machinists and welders are in high demand, and can make a starting wage of $25 to $40 per hour plus benefits.
Luckily, manufacturing jobs are starting to overcome their negative stereotype. Organizations like SMEEF and Gold Collar Careers are working to steer kids towards manufacturing. Additionally, passionate people like Chris Tag of Defy Bags and Joel Bukiewicz of Cut Brooklyn are helping to make manufacturing cool again. These guys have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of making products that they believe in, and their zealousness is inspiring, highly addictive and enhances the concept of making something with your hands in ways that corporations and foundations simply can’t.
3. Break Your Addiction to Cheap Stuff
Sadly, our desire for a sweet deal often overpowers other important considerations, primarily product quality. Big box stores take advantage of this, as evidenced by Walmart’s $2.84 waffle iron Black Friday Special.
Walmart was also happy to sell you a coffee maker for $9.84, a stand mixer for $18.92, a pair of jeans for $7.97 and a set of bed sheets for $6.88. These deals are absolutely amazing, but not so much so when you consider how long these products will last.
If my grandma were alive, she would attest to the fact that a well-built stand mixer or waffle iron should last for a lifetime. Sheets and jeans should last for years. The product life cycle of the cheap Walmart alternatives measure their life cycle in weeks.
If we continue to buy the cheapest alternative, that’s what the retailers will give us. This will put increasing pressure on American manufacturers to offshore production. When offshoring alone won’t meet our low-price demands, that’s when they cut quality. It’s a vicious cycle, but one we can easily help to reverse by passing on ridiculous deals for inferior products.