What does “Made in the USA” mean to you?

What does “Made in the USA” mean in this day and age of a global economy, and does it really matter anymore?

I begin with the case of a US family owned business that distributes home heating oil. I am not specifying any one particular business; there are many of these types of family-owned businesses in many industries and likely several in your region.  Perhaps their oil may be refined in the USA, but then is the refinery American owned (read: BP)?  So then is the source of the crude domestic or imported? And if it is imported, can they claim to be “Made in the USA” of imported products.

The State of Vermont has long struggled with this. Many companies which to cash in on the cache of “Vermont Made,” however state law has been very strict about what truly constitutes “Made in Vermont.”   For example, pork products that are cured and butchered here, but the swine are raised in Kansas, cannot claim to be Vermont Made, i.e. Dakin Farm (http://www.dakinfarm.com/) and Harrington’s (http://www.harringtonham.com/). The same holds true for many maple producers who wish to import cheaper Canadian sap (no disrespect to our fine Canadian neighbors) and then boil here for Vermont-Made Maple Syrup, and then charge a premium for the product.  No can do, so says the State of Vermont and rightfully so. For more information, please see the “Vermont Origin Rule: http://www.atg.state.vt.us/assets/files/Vermont%20Origin%20Rule%20FAQ.pdf.

If we extrapolate this out to a national level, where is the distinction between American Made, American Crafted, or even American Owned? Toyota, a Japanese family business, actually makes the “most American made” car, the Camry, even more so than a Ford (family business) truck. “Of the top 10 vehicles on the American Made index, five of them come from Japanese car makers.”  Source:  http://blogs.wsj.com/drivers-seat/2010/06/23/made-in-usa-a-toyota-is-most-american-car/.

I think many companies would be hard pressed to claim they are truly “Made in the USA” with any extensive examination of their supply chain. Raw materials are often sourced globally, equipment is a mesh of international parts and ingenuity, and distribution of goods and services should be boundless in a free economy.

As director of a university based family business center, with students and faculty from all over the globe, my primary focus has always been on the owner and their successors (or lack of) and not necessarily their products. I strive to provide them with the tools and knowledge they need to succeed both locally and globally. Even the absolute product we, the universities,  produce, in the form of knowledge, is not truly “Made in the USA” when you pause to consider the global supply chain of research and education.

This is not meant to discredit or undermine any business that claims to be “Made in the USA.” To the contrary, I hope we can explore and discover more ways that we can support locally owned businesses that craft American products. However, the real questions for me are

    1. Where do you delineate local?
    2. How do you define “Made in the USA?”
    3. Will John Beck succeed as the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins?

Please comment.

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