Thursday, March 22, 2018

Chinese factories are killing local jobs

Donald Trump became president for a variety of reasons that voters found intriguing during his campaign. One of his biggest selling points was his disdain for Chinese manufacturers and American outsourcers as he believes they pose threats to American jobs. That became a populist rallying cry for blue-collar workers which caused many traditionally-Democratic areas and states to turn Republican at the polls.

He’s been living up to his protectionist campaign promises of late, bringing steel and technological tariffs and controls to the fore. A lot of folks who count themselves as big thinkers – policymakers, economists, the media, and the corporatists on Wall Street -- have come out against them, publicly stating the specter of China taking our jobs is almost mythological. They believe that we no longer need to emphasize the manufacture of goods because we are better off as a high-tech service economy; most manufacturing job losses were attributed to robots and productivity; we’re in a global economy that knows no borders; and consumers are best served by lower prices.

That view of production is precisely why manufacturing has been hurting in America. Regulations, taxes, damaging trade agreements, and more that they have helped to devise have crippled the producers that are a necessary part of our nation’s health.

We need a productive economy. While a service economy creates little wealth, a mixed economy with strong manufacturing, mining, and farming sectors creates lots of it. For every $1 spent in manufacturing an extra $1.40 is added to the economy, twice the multiplier effect seen in service.

For that reason, and the obvious one that I have a vested interest in manufacturing, I side with the blue collar view of China’s threat. I’ve seen it firsthand. We live it every day at the plant…and so do other workers in many factories across the region.

For example, there is a Chinese producer that ripped-off the swimming pool steps and ladders that we make. The look, feel, design, and even the assembly manuals were all copied to a “t” – except for one patented portion of the products. Some would say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but that doesn’t make you feel good when you’re certain that the business lost to these cheap goods would keep 30 Americans busy for 3 or 4 months every year.

Going further back in time, in the 1970s my dad invented the flexible fuel funnel that you see in almost every garage. When that patent expired in the late-80s we lost that business because we couldn’t compete with overseas plants. We haven’t made any of these ubiquitous tools since 1990.

We aren’t alone.

Consider the origin of the Made in America Store. That awesome enterprise was founded by Mark Andol as a means to overcome the foreign monster hurting his first business, General Welding & Fabricating. Low-cost, low-quality Chinese competition forced him to close 2 of his 5 plants and layoff a third of his workforce in 2009.

Mark knew that he needed to “Save Our Country First” (the store’s slogan), so he opened the first of his retail locations in 2010 to showcase goods made by his fellow domestic producers. That business now has multiple locations and carries 7,000 American-made products. While the stores prosper, the back story is still there: Mark still fights China in an effort to keep busy the skilled machinists and welders at his factory.

Or, how about General Motors? The one-time Harrison Radiator – Delphi plant in Lockport is busy for sure, employing 1,400. But, that number is only a portion of what it was in its heyday (10,000 workers). Some of that is attributed to changes in business models and greater productivity, but hundreds of jobs were lost to Asian rip-offs. Foreign “partners” who worked with Delphi in the 80s and 90s stole ideas and technology (even going so far as to commit corporate espionage) and became competitors.

Then there’s the matter of tire dumping committed by China for years. The U.S. imported 8.9 million Chinese truck and bus tires in 2015 worth $1.07 billion, up from 6.3 million units worth $885 million in 2013. Those tires came in below market rates and were unfairly subsidized by the Chinese government.

In the fall of 2016, the US government finally placed tariffs on Chinese tires. But the damage was done. There were years of lost jobs and declined investments. There are 8 plants in the US that make truck tires – one of them, Sumitomo Rubber USA, is right here in Tonawanda.

You see, China’s threat is not some made-up bogeyman. It’s real. China manufacturers are taking jobs from Western New York and taking money out of local families’ pocketbooks.

From the 26 March 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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