Let’s recalibrate “Made in America” to include global operators

By Bart Taylor | Nov 26, 2017

"Made in America" has never been an ideal slogan to rally U.S. manufacturing from its post-globalization doldrums. Too many American companies have come to rely on offshore suppliers and contract manufacturers. Rather, "Made in America" has become a call to arms, a rediscovery of our manufacturing chops. It's more symbol than substance.

This shouldn't diminish the extraordinary efforts of U.S. companies that today fully embrace the business and brand benefits of actually making everything in America, or sourcing the components needed to manufacture and assemble goods from domestic suppliers.

But for hundreds of thousands of otherwise well intentioned U.S. brands and OEMs that manage global supply chains to manufacture products, "Made in America" sloganeering has run its course. For them, it's time for a new and more inclusive rallying cry that's unyieldingly pro-U.S. manufacturing yet cognizant of the shortcomings of the domestic manufacturing supply chain.

How else to reconcile manufacturing realities?

If your company makes backpacks or athletic shoes by the thousands or garments even by the dozens, in most cases -- not all -- success involves global operations. Vietnam is today an epicenter of backpack manufacturing, built by investments from U.S. companies (and, ironically, the U.S. government). Apparel entrepreneurs today seek out Asian factories that produce goods for world-class American brands. Consumer and industrial giants design and engineer products in the U.S. but rely on a network of contract manufacturers, foundries, and assemblers located around the globe.

The tie that binds these manufacturers from distinct and separate industries is labor. Machine operators, assemblers, sewers, and skilled makers by the thousands -- the tradespeople of advanced manufacturing economies -- are today found offshore. Corporate investments follow.

But today other trends point to a wholesale onshoring of manufacturing capabilities, trends that even the most accomplished global operators also embrace. Shortening a supply chain is good business.

American companies are tapping an immeasurable fount of domestic creativity and innovation to design and engineer new products and reimagine entire industry sectors. Robotics and automation and technologies like 3D printing are enabling companies to prototype and manufacture closer to home. Brands conceived in California or Utah are working harder than ever to keep production in those places to enrich communities and control IP and quality, core tenets of today's entrepreneurial class.

It's time to cast a wider net and celebrate not just those companies whose products are "Made in America," but the wave of companies that today seek to "Make More in America." Companies working to integrate engineering with manufacturing on domestic soil; to retrain a generation of equipment operators; to support local growers and new industries that bleed innovation as they contemplate local production.

In 1988, Harvard Business Journal opined that "Manufacturing Offshore Is Bad Business." Corporate America ignored the advice.

Today let's simply acknowledge that American brands and OEMs that "Make More in America" do so because it's good business. Our collective challenge is to provide companies the means to do more. Connecting manufacturers with each other and a growing domestic supply chain is job one.

Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach him at btaylor@companyweek.com.