Should We Care Where Our Products Are Made?


It was Made in America Showcase Week recently, according to the current administration (funny that it also coincided with Russia Week on Stephen Colbert). Anyone, wherever they live, likes to see local people employed. Whether it is an American who likes to see products marked with “Made in America,” a Canadian who swells with pride for “Made in Canada” or a British person seeing “Made in the UK.” The fact of the matter is that very few people are willing to pay more for those items. According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, 70 percent of Americans think it is “very important” or “somewhat important” to buy U.S.-made products.

Despite that sentiment, 37 percent said they would refuse to pay more for U.S. made goods versus imports. Twenty-six percent said they would only pay up to 5 percent more to buy American and 21 percent capped the premium price at 10 percent.

In addition, it is the lowest of wage earners who like “Made in America” and yet they are the least likely to be able to pay the premium. The reality is that most of us feel a patriotism to our own country and kinfolk, yet we are actually beholden to our wallets. The same lower wage earners who say they prefer made in America, and per the Reuters article said, “Indeed, the biggest U.S. retailer is well aware of the priority buyers place on price above all else.” A spokesman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said customers are telling them that “…where products are made is most important second only to price.”

I decided to do an informal poll in the office with millennials to baby boomers. The baby boomers immediately said they would pay a premium, but quickly changed their mind when asked about a $10 item with a 5% surcharge and a $1,000 item with a 100% surcharge. The millennials I spoke with said it didn’t matter to them at all where an item was made, quality, availability and price drove their decisions. Interestingly enough however, since we are in the business of supply chain, a few of them said they would like to know first if the items were ethically sourced and no human trafficking existed in the supply chains, which is something that is hard to determine based on the manufacturing location as the only indicator. At least it proved they are listening at work and caring about causes. 

I care about unemployment, which will not improve if a company brings manufacturing back on shore with a robotic factory. The old jobs are not coming back and lamenting them is nice for nostalgia sake, but that’s the extent to which we should discuss them. “My granddaddy worked the coal mines and raised four children and one of them was my daddy, who worked in the mines and was able to raise us as well. It’s our family’s legacy and yet I can’t find work in the mines and that isn’t right, that isn’t American.” No it isn’t “right” it is called progress. The world is not going to stand still for anyone and no one is entitled to living the life of the generation before them. Our only obligation is to realize that with Moore’s Law and the rate of computational power, we have now combined with the fact we have already gone global and that can’t be undone. We are one earth and we all impact one another. That is what we face.

I grew up with two uncles who were union pipe fitters in Detroit. In those days, “Made in Detroit” and “Made in Michigan” were important to me…at least I thought it was, until the day I decided to buy a new car. I became immediately selfish; I needed a car that was quality, inexpensive and could take me through the end of my college years and into my career without needing to be replaced. I researched every option available and ultimately, I bought a Honda, even though I lived in Dearborn Heights, which was Ford Country. My uncles almost disowned me, but they weren’t buying the car for me, I didn’t have a father and my mother couldn’t help me, so I needed to get the best value for my money that I could find. That’s when I realized it is easier to think local than to act it when it came to paying out of pocket. It was also an era of growing up where all my neighbors cussed about the Japanese and how they were going to ruin the auto industry. What actually happened is that the auto industry realized they had gotten stale, overpriced and lacked the quality that the Japanese had been able to instill in their manufacturing processes. In the years since, I have bought American, French, German and now most recently American again. I have continued to buy based on total value and now with a desire for a smaller footprint…to buy all electric and reduce my carbon footprint. I surely don’t support more coal initiatives, not when clean energy is available. While I wish those coal miners had jobs, it is not at the expense of the environment. I hope more people begin to realize the need to think of next generation jobs rather than last generation employment options and that it’s our responsibility to educate our children to be open to change.

So, I will continue to not look at labels and boycott those that I know are unethical. I think most people will ultimately follow suit when they actually have to make a purchase. Made on Earth? Well that might not even last that long, so how about just Made?

Dawn Tiura, President and CEO, SIG

Dawn Tiura is the CEO and President of SIG, SIG University and Outsource and has over 26 years leadership experience, with the past 22 years focused on the sourcing and outsourcing industry. In 2007, Dawn joined SIG as CEO, but has been active in SIG as a speaker and trusted advisor since 1999, bringing the latest developments in sourcing and outsourcing to SIG members. Prior to joining SIG, Dawn held leadership positions as CEO of Denali Group and before that as a partner in a CPA firm. Dawn is actively involved on a number of boards promoting civic, health and children's issues in the Jacksonville, Florida area. Dawn is a licensed CPA and has a BA from the University of Michigan and an MS in taxation from Golden Gate University. Dawn brings to SIG a culture of brainstorming and internal innovation.