Labor Day, that traditional American holiday dating back to 1882, invokes a different kind of patriotism this year as Americans struggle to find jobs and a new “American Made” movement takes hold in Congress.
Since 2000, America has lost more than one third – roughly 5.4 million – of its manufacturing jobs. This year, China stands poised for the first time to surpass the United States in terms of manufacturing, according to the Alliance for American Manufacturing.
And, the loss of manufacturing jobs has greatly contributed to the country’s overall unemployment problem, according to Julie Reiser, Co-founder & President of Made in USA Certified, a company that certifies member companies as having truly American-made products.
“The lack of jobs is directly related to two decades of outsourcing and people are starting to realize that as we’ve obliterated our manufacturing base, we’ve obliterated jobs,” Reiser said.
Small businesses are leading the charge toward restoring the domestic manufacturing sector. BusinessNewsDaily spoke with a few who told us why they’ve stayed put and kept their companies operating in the United States against some pretty overwhelming odds.
Domestic Dumpster-diving. Jeremy Litchfield’s Brunswick, Maine-based company, Atayne, makes high-performing outdoor and athletic apparel from recycled plastic bottles and recycled fabric. And it does so in the United States. While garment manufacturers are fleeing the country for Turkey, India, Vietnam and China, Atayne is committed to sourcing and manufacturing its product domestically.
“Our fabrics are made in Tennessee and North Carolina and we do the cutting and sewing of our garments in North Carolina, Vermont and Massachusetts,” Litchfield said. “I am also spear-heading an initiative in Maine to combine our resources [with other companies] to establish a cooperative cutting and sewing facility.”
The company has only been selling its products for two years, but sales this year will exceed $100,000. While still small, the company's sales have doubled each year, Litchfield said. Producing its products domestically is expected to help spur that growth.
"There's a lot of waste in the traditional business model for manufacturing apparel," Litchfield said. "Our model is to apply 'just-in-time' manufacturing to the process." In other words, Atayne doesn't make any of its products until they are ordered. Working with local manufacturers allows the company to do that.
"American manufacturers are willing to be innovative and flexible," Litchfield said. "It also allows us to support jobs where our products are being sold."
Making merry. Merry Lynch, owner of Eat, Drink and Be Merry, a personalized stationery line sold to major retailers, including Neiman Marcus, manufactures her products in Phoenix, Ariz., using local artists, designers, artisans and printers. Producing her products domestically allows her to offer customized goods without keeping inventory because she can turn an order around quickly, producing only what is ordered.
“The goal in forming my company was to be able to run it from my home without inventory,” Lynch said. “I have spent my career in retail and did not want the waste of products that are a result of having the wrong or too much inventory.”
Working locally has allowed her to do that. And while her business may be home-based, it’s growing fast. She’s working on a collection for Saks and will soon debut a line of framed artwork, placemats and pillows that will all be produced in the United States. Sales to Neiman Marcus, alone, were $100,000 this year.
Classic moves. Classic Products, of Piqua, Ohio, a second generation family-owned business, manufactures its specialty residential metal roofing systems in Ohio, Kentucky, Texas, and Iowa, and has annual sales of $20 million.
“Production inside the United States allows us to maintain positive and progressive relationships with our raw materials suppliers,” said company president Todd E. Miller. “Our operations team, and our U.S. distribution channels allow us to manufacture products that are consistently of the highest quality.”
Miller said he is unwilling to jeopardize his product quality through overseas production. The company also buys all of its raw materials and its ancillary items from other U.S. firms.
Scrubbing up. Father and daughter team Rodger and Dahlia Cohen produce their customizable nursing scrubs at the New York City garment factory their family has owned for three generations.
“Everything we do is local, we use only local designers, vendors, and factories to create our line of scrubs, lab coats, and accessories,” said Dahlia Cohen, who’s company is called Scrub Ink.
“There have been many challenges to manufacturing in the states,” Cohen said. “Finding the resources is a challenge in itself, because of the recession and outsourcing, resources are dwindling. Another challenge is producing garments at a competitive price when using American labor. Finding a consumer who appreciates an American-made product is hard as well. Many consumers do not understand the consequences of not supporting American companies.”
Nevertheless, the Cohens won’t be deterred. “Our factory is still going strong and we hope our scrub business will keep it alive for generations to come,” Cohen said.
Diving in. Diving Unlimited International designs and manufactures high-end scuba diving suits for recreational, military, commercial and scientific diving use. It employs 80 people at its San Diego, Calif., factory.
“We have more control over the product here and can ensure quality,” said Susan Long, who runs the company with her father and husband.
Because so many of the company’s diving suits are made-to-order, local manufacturing allows for a lot of flexibility, Long said.
But that’s not the only reason Diving Unlimited International is keeping its production in the United States in spite of the fact that most other diving suits are made overseas.
“To be honest, is pride,” Long said. “We've been here since 1963. “So many of our employees have been with us for years. I like having a factory that actually makes things.”
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