Save American Manufacturing: Fighting Against the China Syndrome

Grassroots organization pledges to bring manufacturing back to the United States and off of foreign soil.

Unfortunately it is common knowledge that foreign competition is slowly but surely taking its toll on the moldmaking industry and if this trend continues it is likely that the industry could end up in worse trouble than it is right now. Thankfully, Save American Manufacturing (SAM) - a recently formed subcommittee of the American Mold Builder's Association (AMBA) - has decided to take action in the form of a letter-writing campaign.

Last October, Bill Cermak - senior engineer and sales manager of Roselle, IL-based Pro Mold & Die, a moldmaker specializing in manufacturers' molds from small unit molds up to 20,000-pound automotive tooling - had a vision of organizing moldmakers around the country and descending on Washington, D.C. He saw everyone marching together to protest what he and many others in the industry deem unfair trade practices with China and to make the public and the government aware of the devastating effects this trade deficit has had on the American economy. Slowly he began to realize this vision and SAM came to be.

 

Planting The Seed

Cermak realized he needed some backing for his plan to be a success so he approached AMBA National President Scott Harris, who advised him to contact the Chicago chapter and start the movement at the grassroots level. He then requested a meeting with the AMBA Chicago Chapter board of directors in mid-December; and they discussed the possibility of a letter-writing campaign. According Mike Walter, general manager of MET Plastics, Inc. (Elk Grove Village, IL) - a custom injection mold builder and molder specializing in fast-turn tooling - and president of AMBA Chicago Chapter, the group met again in early January to set up a mission statement and discuss the details of the campaign. Thus, SAM was formally founded with Cermak acting as committee chairman. At its first meeting later that month, there were a number of industries represented through the following associations: AMBA, SPE, TMA, NADCA (North American Die Casting Association) and the FIA (Forging Industry Association).

Walter points out that the directors of AMBA Chicago Chapter decided unanimously to get involved with SAM because they "saw a definite need for action in stopping the unfair trade occurring in the mold building industry" as well as all manufacturing sectors in the United States. "We also felt that we owed it to the AMBA Chicago Chapter members to address the rapid decline of our industry," he states. "As an active Chicago Chapter member, I try to help out as much as possible. All of the Chicago Chapter directors have been helping out - donating a tremendous amount of their time in making this a successful effort."

In the meantime, Cermak had contacted Illinois congressman Don Manzullo, who gave him the specifics of how a letter-writing campaign would be of benefit to SAM. "It's the most effective thing we can do," Cermak explains. "When someone is an elected official and his or her constituents start sending letters about something, he/she is going to have to pay attention. Manzullo's office told me that just 10 letters from constituents on the same subject becomes a matter they look into. Then, they said if they have 100 letters from constituents on the same subject, they would run an investigation."

 

Watching It Grow

The past several months SAM has been moving at lightning speed. Enter Cynthia Petrucci, a marketing consultant for a number of manufacturers as well as a sales/marketing representative at B A Die Mold, Inc. (Aurora, IL) - a producer of precision thermoplastic and thermoset molds - who became SAM's vice chairman and immediately began burning the candle at both ends. "Our mission is to build public and government awareness of the devastating effects the increasing economic trade deficit with China has had on U.S. businesses and to create solutions that will re-establish the United States as the manufacturing leader and promote reinvestment in the American labor force," she emphasizes. "There is an $85 billion trade deficit with China, which will be $120 billion by the end of next year."

SAM also has named the following goals through its mission statement:

  • To let our political leaders know that we, as American family people and voters, understand that the irresponsible trade laws with China are literally de-industrializing the United States.
  • To inform our political leaders that we have made a personal effort to tell them we demand help and trade law changes before more American family people are put out of work. When the manufacturing plants move out of this country, so do the skills that we have trained for years to learn.
  • To notify our political leaders through an organized letter-writing campaign, enlisting participation by company owners, managers and their employees. Their letters will be addressed to the President of the United States with copies of the letters sent to the vice president, both Illinois senators, all congressmen representing Northern Illinois and the Governor of Illinois.
  • To work with other organizations in Illinois and across the U.S. that wish to start their own SAM committee and encourage those committees to contact their local congressmen for support.

To that end, the SAM committee developed letter templates to be used as a guideline for employees and business owners to write their own personal letters. The letters were collected and held until the beginning of March, and will soon be hand delivered by Congressman Don Manzullo to United States political leaders at one time (see Sidebar).

 

In Full Bloom

Cermak notes that the SAM initiative has "caught on like wildfire" and shows no signs of slowing down. "It is our belief that if nothing is done we will all end up out of business and our economy will end up a service economy," he states. "The U.S. as a world power cannot exist as a service economy - then we'd be like a third world country."

Alan Petrucci - Cynthia's father, president of B A Die Mold and AMBA Chicago Chapter board member - couldn't agree more. "A service economy does not create wealth - all it does is move it around," he states. "You have to make things to create wealth - you must convert raw material into a product. That creates wealth. We need to make all manufacturing sectors aware of this serious situation. It's like an avalanche and people should be scared - our customers are leaving in droves. You can't even blame the manufacturers for leaving. When you can get stuff made for 40 cents an hour and no regulations, you have to do it. That's why we are saying to the government, 'Do something to help the manufacturers stay here.' That's what we really want."

MET Plastics' Walter echoes these sentiments. "I believe that this campaign will open the eyes of our elected officials in Washington," he states. "In my opinion, most of them don't seem to realize how beneficial the manufacturing sector is to the U.S. economy, they seem to think that all of manufacturing is made up of low-skill jobs that are more suitable for third world nations. They also don't believe the average United States citizen is aware of these issues. Our letters will let them know that there are skilled and unskilled jobs at risk. It'll also let them know that we are united, and will collectively have an impact at the polls."

Francine Petrucci - Alan's daughter, vice president of B A Die Mold and AMBA Chicago Chapter AMBA board member - adds her two cents. She sees the need for additional education directed at people in the United States who do not understand the importance of manufacturing in this country. "There are actually Americans out there that think we can remain a super power while we press each other's pants!" she states.

Not surprisingly, Michael Armbrust, general manager of St. Charles, IL-based Mako Mold Corp. - a manufacturer of precision plastic injection molds - and vice president of AMBA Chicago Chapter expresses thoughts similar to his peers. "Our mission has got to be one voice," he stresses. "I would like to see what everyone else wants to see: changing what everyone has called free trade into fair trade. As a result of creating fair trade we will save American jobs. On a bigger level, I am personally interested in seeing manufacturing remain a stronghold in this country - it's what has made us a world power. Furthermore, I chose moldmaking as a livelihood and I want to succeed at it, and the government is systematically taking that opportunity away from me. The key is to change free trade to fair trade."

And, Cermak adds, the key also is to have this same initiative throughout the United States. Luckily, the groundwork has already been laid out, "We have an information pack all set up and will work with anyone who wants to start their own SAM. This needs to go national, and we will do whatever it takes to help anyone that wants to get started. It only takes 20 minutes to a half hour to complete the letter and mail it, just one time. We want to give everyone the opportunity to stand up, speak out and be heard in Washington. American manufacturing needs someone to lead them, to show them the light at the end of the tunnel. With SAM, we've turned that light on by giving them something to work toward and help secure their future. It's as simple as writing a letter."

 

The "Write" Stuff
Although in its infancy, the SAM letter-writing campaign has resulted in hundreds of letters from concerned moldmakers - a number that Cyndi Petrucci of SAM hopes at least doubles before the letters are delivered to the White House. The following are just a handful of excerpts from these letters.

"I understand that certain careers face deterioration due to technological advances that may force the requirement for that service into extinction. However, the services employers like mine provide are still very much in demand and are critical to the future of America." - C.H., Hanover Park, IL

"In the past several years my manufacturing business has been forced to reduce its size by more than 60 percent. I had to make the agonizing decision to sell half of my machines - and send more people to the unemployment line - in order to stay in business. The force that pushed me to near bankruptcy was not a result of poor business planning, but was another casualty of the nearly 100 billion dollar trade deficit with Communist China. Please understand that this deficit equates to work lost, and that the skills and technology to do this work took us more than 100 years to develop. It is now literally being given away overnight to a Communist country. What an insult to a century's worth of progress." - W.C., Jr., Fox River Grove, IL

"I am a single homeowner supporting a daughter and finding it most difficult to make ends meet. When I do manage to meet all my financial obligations, there remains nothing to save for my or my daughter's future. In this current instance of being forced to live on a 20 percent reduction in pay, I have had to forego my 401k contributions. It truly has been a struggle to live well since having made the decision to pursue a career in the moldmaking industry." - B.C., Auburne, ME

"My company has been a leader in technology, and driving down tooling costs. We were constantly re-investing back into our industry at the rate of $1,000,000.00 per year for the past six years prior to 2000. Even a company who, by all standards, was positioned to be the most competitive in this industry finds it nearly impossible to compete with the below material cost pricing falsely offered by CHINA." - B.L., Meadville, PA

"I have worked in the manufacturing industry since graduating High School in 1967. Before graduating, I asked my family what they thought would be a good career path to follow. Without exception, they all said, "Get into a trade". Up until the past two years or so, I thought I had made a good decision. Recently, I was forced to close my business of 15 years because of the lack of available work. Everywhere I looked, things were being sent to Communist countries like "China" and there was nothing left for me to do ... without manufacturing, what is it that we are doing? Without manufacturing, there would be less need for lawyers, accountants, office help and many other jobs that are directly impacted by the loss of this industry. Who is making our machinery? Who is making our cars? Who is making our military equipment? We are losing our position as a world leader and no one in Washington seems to care." - J.O., Schaumburg, IL

"I have worked in the plastics mold tooling industry in this country for almost 27 years and I have always been astounded by the sheer talent of engineers and tool makers associated with and dedicated to this field of manufacturing. Manufacturing in all the various industries has always been one of the main pillars that supports this great country of ours. That is why I and many of my associates in this specialized business are concerned, and have been concerned for some time now with the trend of corporate America to take its business offshore to other countries due to the trade imbalance and the cheap tooling and labor practices found there. I see this trend in my own company and wonder why it has to be this way. The fact is that most companies - if they want to survive - are forced into this situation." - J.A., Oneida, NY

"I have worked in manufacturing for 30 years. During the past nine of those years I have taken some number of furloughs. The frequency of the furloughs has increased to the point now that I am facing lay-off. Many I know have already been laid off. Some have been without work for as long as a year." - T. A., Germanton, NC

"The difference in cost for American-made products sometimes is only pennies per unit at the manufacturing level and that could be the difference between staying here or moving the production somewhere else. We need to keep Americans working at good pay rates not just at jobs." - V. F., Bloomingdale, IL

"Please let me tell you about the business problem I face. I started my mold manufacturing business 30 years ago and this is the worst condition I have seen in this industry. For only the second time I have had to cut hours in order to try to keep all our employees working. My business has been severely negatively impacted due to my customers buying their tooling in Communist China. In fact, entire programs and production lines are being moved there due to the wide disparity in tariffs, duties and labor costs. This situation may cause us to close and put 70 families in peril. Our employees are highly skilled in a narrow field and it would be hard to find new jobs due to the condition of our industry." - W.H., Washington, MO

"I've seen many qualified and competent associates lose their jobs or subjected to a significant compensatory decrease because of projects they once excelled in being relocated to China ... not one of these projects can it be said was lost based upon our performance as a company. Rather, we lose and continue losing business strictly based upon price ... how can we legitimately compete with a workforce that is paid an average of $2.00 to $5.00 per day?" - W.B., Schaumburg, IL.

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