Fool me twice: Why COVID is the wakeup call that tariffs weren’t

By Bart Taylor | Apr 27, 2020

In August of last year, as tariffs were buffeting U.S brands, I wrote, "There may never be a better opportunity to rally the nation around a moonshot-like goal to reconstruct our manufacturing commons, our national means of production."

I was wrong. COVID-19 is even a more compelling reason.

For years, consumer spending has powered the U.S. economy. Yet COVID is kryptonite: Spending will be a wild card for the foreseeable future as jobs and income stabilize. And of the many companies COVID will leave in its wake, manufacturers will be among them -- companies and brands in food and beverage, in building and construction, in locally made gear and equipment -- companies that thrive on a profligate consumer sector.

Which means capital investment and business-to-business spending in the U.S. now takes on a new level of urgency. If there was ever a time to reassess investments we make in human capital and infrastructure in manufacturing outposts in China and elsewhere, it's now. American communities need jobs and business spending, the sooner the better.

Tariffs should have been a lesson. Chinese industrialists decided early in the trade war to pivot from strength in basic consumer manufacturing to higher-value advanced manufacturing in order to offset American leadership in those areas. The U.S. has no such plan.

This past January, I quoted the Wall Street Journal's John Stoll, who at that time said that tariffs largely reinforce "sentiment that has simmered for years over the low flame of China's rising labor costs, forced technology transfers and intellectual-property theft." If tariffs fueled a simmer for companies manufacturing in China, COVID has ignited a raging fire.

What to do? Today we've run out of excuses to fight for relief from tariffs instead of new manufacturing infrastructure, to buy a cheaper offshore option instead of paying a few dollars more for a U.S.-made product, or to bypass the opportunity to look for U.S.-based suppliers. Our communities depend on us making different choices.

Here, we start by encouraging U.S. manufacturers and brands to support domestic suppliers and sourcing options. If qualified suppliers are tough to find locally, then regional or national options are the next best thing. In today's Supplier Bulletin, companies from New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania took the time to publicize their solutions. We should welcome more.

Here's the growing list of companies available to fill orders, or provide consumer options with products they make. List your company, or tell us what you're making. And let small tactics that support U.S. manufacturing blossom into a strategy that carries us back from crisis and lays a foundation for the future.

Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Email him at

Related from Bart Taylor:

Leadership lacking in competition for manufacturing leaving China

China’s pivot from tariffs a lesson for U.S manufacturing

Ordered to leave China, American manufacturers must shoot for the moon