MFG 2.0

Made In America, v. 2.0

Although I, as most people, am appalled at the recent string of poisonous products being imported from Chinese sources, I actually think that there's more than one positive lesson to be drawn out of this nightmare.

Let me explain.

With all apologies to Chinese business apologists, the fact that there are people in this world that would knowingly endanger children just to make a buck (or yuan) or two is beyond comprehension.

However, I believe that the dire product safety situation could actually help build unity between management and labor in American manufacturing -- an always contentious area that we can all agree is always needing points of agreement.

So to mix a metals metaphor, the first silver lining in the lead paint is a golden opportunity for expressing solidarity with your employees, from C-level to entry level, to challenge them to take pride in being among the most productive workforces on the planet, and express the idea of re-instilling a sense of national pride and ownership in the manufacturing process.

To put it simply: "We, the people" need to become a "we" again (for the record, as any psychologist will tell you, having a "they" to use for contrast never hurts).

Furthermore, as "Made In China" starts to mean "buyer beware" in consumers' minds, it presents an opportunity to the domestic manufacturing base to start promoting our own goods with the same level of ubiquity.

Whenever possible (and appropriate) we need to champion the Made In USA label both as producers and consumers. Check out the Made In USA and the Still Made In USA websites for networking opportunities (and maybe shopping lists as well?)

I for one would be willing to pay a premium for American-made goods. How much, you ask? Let's give it a try and let the market decide.

Although some may counter that I wouldn't be willing to pay 200% above the "China price" for the same product, I would say this:

As we're discovering, that China price leaves out all sorts of quite essential costs (such as strict quality controls and oversight costs, not to mention inspection infrastructure) that have totally eroded my confidence in the safety of Chinese products. This means I'm looking twice at everything from flip-flops that give your feet chemical burns to toothpaste that brightens your teeth while it shuts down your kidneys. I'd pay more just to assure myself of general product safety, especially those products intended for kids or pets, for which the Made In USA premium could probably be increased.

Even above and beyond the hidden costs of Chinese outsourcing as of today, the China price will continue to rise in the years to come. As the Chinese labor market develops, the cost of Chinese labor is going up, while the cost of labor in a developed economy like ours is a known, fairly stable quantity. Added to increasing fuel costs (and carbon footprint concerns) perhaps ending the era of cheap shipping sooner than later, and you've got a potential return to a more regional manufacturing mindset. This isn't jingoistic, or even protectionist, mind you -- it's just one way the market might swing.

Finally, and most importantly, it's time to start getting our pride of place back, and supporting those U.S. companies who have managed to survive getting flattened along with the earth.

TAGS: Innovation
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