It's becoming downright American to make stuff in America.
Small manufacturers, craftsmen and retailers are marketing the Made-in-USA tag to score do-gooder points with consumers for employing stateside, says Margarita Mendoza, founder of the Made in America Movement, a lobbying organization for small manufacturers.
It's working: Over 80% of Americans are willing to pay more for Made-in-USA products, 93% of whom say it's because they want to keep jobs in the USA, according to a survey released in November by Boston Consulting Group. In ultra-partisan times, it's one of the few issues both Democrats and Republicans agree on.
When considering similar products made in the U.S. vs. China, the average American is willing to pay up to 60% more for U.S.-made wooden baby toys, 30% more for U.S.-made mobile phones and 19% more for U.S.-made gas ranges, the survey says.
Now Wal-Mart wants a piece of the action. The behemoth, embroiled over the past year with worker protests and foreign bribery investigations, pledged recently to source $50 billion of products in the U.S. over the next 10 years, says Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove. They're not alone. Mendoza says both Caterpillar and 3M have also made efforts to source more in the U.S.
"Regardless if this is a PR ploy or not, it doesn't matter. A lot more people will look for the Made-in-USA tag," she says, adding that, considering Wal-Mart's size, $5 billion a year is only "a drop in the bucket," for the retailer whose 2012 sales reached almost $444 billion.
Kyle Rancourt says his American-made shoe company, Rancourt & Co., hit it big as concern over U.S. jobs mounted when the recession hit in 2009. But he says he lies awake at night worrying if Made-in-USA is just a passing fad.
"It's inevitable that times will change," Rancourt says. "But I am still holding out hope that this has become a core value of our country."
Mendoza says that if buying American turns out to be a passing fad, the country is in trouble.
"If they don't understand the economic factor, we need to pull on their heartstrings," she says. "The thought of having a country like China taking over, that alone is bone-chilling."
But do folks care enough about U.S. manufacturing jobs to permanently change the way they shop? David Aaker, vice chairman of brand consulting firm Prophet, says the companies that get the most credit for being American, such as Apple and Cisco, don't even source products in the U.S.
"I don't think it matters unless it becomes visible," Aaker says. "The most common way for that is if something bad happens, like if Nike gets some press about conditions in factories overseas."
But Rancourt says his customers believe foreign-made shoes lack the soul of their American counterparts.
"There's hundreds if not thousands of workers working on those factories. They do one specific job, maybe put an eyelet into a specific place," he says. "They don't have an idea or concept of a finished product and how that should look."
Just watch out for phony Made-in-USA claims. It's illegal to claim a product is U.S.-made unless both the product and all it's components are sourced in the U.S. Even products that could imply a phony country of origin with a flag or country outline are verboten. Julia Solomon Ensor, enforcement lawyer at the Federal Trade Commission, says the FTC gets "several complaints each month about potentially deceptive 'Made-in-the-USA' claims."
It sets a bad example. Mendoza says the U.S. needs to let kids know it's OK to work in manufacturing. "Not all children are going to grow up to be dentists, and lawyers, and investment bankers."
By Oliver St. John