Manufacturing in America

Over the years, as we are all aware, our manufacturing has been outsourced to the point where we make very little in our own country.

The other day, my wife was trying to open a can. The can opener was one of those simple mechanical devices that have been around for decades. Only this one was different in two ways. It had big ergonomically designed plastic handles and it didn’t work. We were discussing this over dinner, how these simple everyday items that used to work forever now seem to last for a very short time before they need to be replaced.

Of course this can opener was made in China. But I don’t think we can blame China for any of this. There is a reason most of our stuff is now made in China. It’s because it’s more profitable for American companies to have the Chinese make their products. And IMMHO, that is the only reason.

Woodworkers are one of the few groups that still make things here in America. I’m not talking about factory stuff here. That is another story. But good quality custom woodwork is one of the things that cannot be easily outsourced. At least not in any practical sense.

It takes a craftsman working locally to make a built in bookcase or panel an office. It’s not the kind of work you can ship over from another country. We might well be the image of what manufacturing in America will look like in the future. Small groups of highly skilled people making top quality products on a local or regional scale. As transportation costs become an increasingly large burden, the idea of shipping materials and product back and forth over the oceans might become more and more untenable.



  • Pat Gilbert says:

    Comparative advantage is what raises the standard of living for all. This actually increases the number of jobs, I know everyone thinks otherwise but that does not make it so.

    From what I hear China is almost at the end of having a price advantage because of cheap labor. This equate to more jobs in the U.S.

  • Patrick says:

    I feel your pain. My wife and I discuss the same subjects all the time.
    Here’s something I think people need to understand in general:

    It is definitely possible to make an ergonomically correct can opener that will last 20 years or more. The problem is that it will cost more than the piece of crap you can get at a lower price and when price is king, low price wins.

    As a consumer, you like the low price but don’t like the quality. Would you pay more money for a better can opener? Would you pay even more money for an American-made better can opener? All the evidence says NO.

    As a manufacturer, would you want to wait 20 years to sell another high quality can opener to that customer? All the evidence says NO.

    Ultimately, consumers are in control by voting with their dollars; however, as American purchasing power declines, the crappy, low cost, “ergonomic” can opener may be the only affordable option. And by extension, crappy pre-fab wood products which are forced-to-fit will be chosen over the craftsman.

    The solution to the crappy low cost can opener is nothing less than an overhaul of our consumer-driven economy (70% of the US economy depends on consumer spending). This means a shift to a sustainable lifestyle concerned more with utility and durability than fashion. In such a society, the craftsman would be king.

  • Scot says:

    You are correct, we can’t blame China for wanting to become a world power, for wanting to be like the United States, or for producing items more cheaply than we are willing to.

    However an issue is that you need fewer bookcases with the overseas made electronic readers and fewer offices are being paneled when more employees and/or businesses are being outsourced.

    Early on in my tiny business, a mentor suggested that to make more money, I would be better off sending wood to the Philippines, having it milled, assembled, and shipped back here.

    ‘I’ might be better off financially, but what about my employee(s), my community, my country?

    This seems to be a fundamental flaw in business thinking today. Make money, the hell with everyone else.

    Thanks for at least opening a dialogue on this topic…it REALLY does affect us all!

  • Rich Flynn says:

    A few years ago, I was at a trade show. It could have been AWFS or the National Hardware Show.

    During a discussion with a vendor, the comment “We have factory time scheduled in China.” was uttered with great pride and expectation. After I left the booth, the impact of the statement really hit me. Before “scheduled factory time”, customer service could call over to the factory in search of a part for a customer for a repair. Calling the factory today would only result in a “We don’t make that part any more.”

    A very sad state of affairs.

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