A surge in consumer preference for made-in-USA products is more and more apparent these days. With everything from electronics to apparel, consumers are progressively looking for American-made products even if these goods cost slightly more than ones manufactured overseas.
The same can’t be said, however, for the steel industry. With the overwhelming need for bridge repair, 70,000 nationwide to be exact, the need for steel is high but we are buying overseas. The new $6.3 billion Bay Bridge in California is being constructed with steel from China because it is cheaper, and a variety of companies and municipalities across the country are following suit. Many Americans are in an uproar regarding this issue because this one project alone created thousands of jobs in China, while our steel workers remain out of work.
While patriotism may be one of the factors behind the preference for US steel, there are several other reasons to buy American.
One of the reasons for this surge in consumer preference for made-in-USA goods is quality. Products manufactured here are perceived to be of higher quality than goods produced elsewhere. According to a recent study by Industry Week, 85% of Americans and 82% of Chinese citizens believe that products made in America are high-quality items.
The US steel we buy all undergoes a series of certifications, testing, and corrosion control to ensure the product they ship will stand the test of time. American products must undergo a more thorough examination process before being put on the market, and steel is certainly one of the most deeply examined industrial products.
Pride and Patriotism
The recent downturn in the economy has resulted in many people rethinking how their spending affects the job market. Many consumers who previously purchased goods made in China simply because they were less expensive have begun to wonder if their actions contributed to a loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States. This has led to increased patriotic spirit and a desire to help their country. In the same Industry Week poll, 80% of those responding said that buying domestic goods is a way to display patriotism.
The National Export Initiative was launched in 2010, with the primary goal of doubling the number of U.S. exports to other countries by 2014. Several government agencies are working together to accomplish this task including the Commerce Department, Small Business Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Thus far, the program appears to be successful. The Commerce Department reports that exports during the first quarter of 2013 totaled over $555 billion, the highest quarterly total on record.
Due to the alarming rate at which steel is being bought overseas, a “Buy America” campaign for steel is gaining steam around the country. For example, The Department of Transportation has committed to a “Buy America” cause that ensures that all transportation infrastructure projects will be built with American-made products.
Enhanced Skills Needed
Manufacturers are more willing to “reshore” factories than ever before thanks to ever-evolving technology. Because the machines that produce goods are more complicated than before, unskilled workers are often not qualified to operate them. For many companies, that means bringing their manufacturing operations back to the United States simply because there is an abundance of qualified American workers who can operate their highly technical equipment.
Among the largest manufacturers that require skilled labor are those whose processes involve metal pouring and casting, welding, or computer-controlled machines and tools. These manufacturing jobs are primarily associated with producing automobile engines, wind turbines, agricultural equipment, and mining operations. Manufacturing jobs in technology, transportation, and aerospace are experiencing slow but steady growth as well.
What the Future Holds
While the cost for Chinese steel remains cheap, Californian taxpayers have had to foot the bill for the faulty steel girders in 2012 as well as other issues during construction. These problems have resulted in cost overruns and delays that could have been avoided, had California officials not chosen the lowest bidder and went with a reliable and domestic steel provider.
And although “Buy America” is still a rising cause in the steel industry, the overall admiration of products featuring the phrase “Made in the USA” will certainly remain a worldwide trend.
About the author:
Tom Bonine is president of National Metal Fabricators. The Chicago area firm, established in 1944, offers custom metal fabrication, angle rings, welding, and bar milling services.