Opinion

Remember Made in America?

by Don C. Brunell
President, Association of
Washington Business

As a young Woolworth shopper in Montana, I avoided toys with the Made in Japan label. American made toys were better quality. Plus, in my family, we supported American workers.
Now things are much different. American-made still means quality, and we still try to support American workers. But theres not as much made here now. Today, nirvana is having an American assembly plant supplied by as many domestically-made parts as possible.
It is not an American phenomenon only. It is what the new global economy is all about. Most products are hybrids designed, manufactured and assembled with little regard to national borders.
For example, in Europe, Airbus jets have been assembled in France for years. The company gathered parts fabricated in Germany, Spain and Great Britain and turned out finished airplanes in Toulouse. Now the embattled aerospace firm is looking to assemble some of its popular A320, the competitor to Boeings 737, in China.
Why? Because assembling planes in China will reduce costs and because China is a growing market for passenger planes.
The same is true for our countrys top automakers, Ford, Chrysler and GM. Theyre not only buying parts from companies across the globe but they are locating assembly lines in other countries as well.
Why? Again, because the costs to bring cars to showrooms in China, India and other rapidly growing countries are lower. They also want to assemble closer to the buyers to avoid transportation and delivery delays.
Even Japanese automakers have responded to global pressures. For example, Toyota is putting the finishing touches on a new plant in Kentucky to turn out its new Camry hybrid. Honda has a joint venture with Dongfeng Motor Corp. to make cars in China. In fact last year, Honda sold a quarter million cars there. With its 1.4 billion people and a growing middle class numbering close to half a billion people, China is now the worlds fastest growing car market.
The fact is, today shoppers whether major airline companies or families in a supermarket buy products based on price and quality. Successful producers combine both.
The world has changed since the 1950s when our family shopped at Woolworth for toys and at the local Chevy dealer for our new Belair, which was made in Detroit. Today, all of us have many choices of quality, low-priced products from many parts of the world not just the USA.
Our elected officials must recognize that they cannot mandate buying decisions or personal choices. And they must adjust our laws and policies accordingly. Competitiveness is no longer a stationary target. It is a rapidly moving one that must be addressed every day.
Lawmakers must be careful to avoid restricting free trade and protectionism. Those measures dont work. The goal must be to make our state and nation as cost and quality competitive as possible.
Some were critical of the incentives and cost control policies adopted by the 2003 Legislature to insure that Boeing assembled its new 787 passenger jet in Washington. But lawmakers did exactly what they had to do. Now orders for that aircraft are skyrocketing and Boeing is adding workers to meet demand.
Nobody wants to see Ford close 14 plants and lay off 30,000 workers. Layoffs and plant closings are painful to families and communities. But if the company doesnt take these drastic actions and find ways to stay competitive, it will go out of business and far more people will be devastated.
The way government can help is to find approaches to allow Ford and other American companies to compete globally. That means lowering costs and regulatory burdens, eliminating frivolous lawsuits, and enacting tax policies that allow them to compete and hire more American workers.

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