Congresswoman Jackie Speier

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Opinion: To encourage U.S. industry, buy Made in America

June 9, 2011

The San Jose Mercury News
By Jackie Speier

When ABC News asked a Texas family to empty their living room, kitchen and master bedroom of all imported products, they were left with the kitchen sink and a vase. These empty rooms symbolize a manufacturing sector that has become a shadow of itself. Despite a modest resurgence over the past two years, manufacturing is still in deep decline. The number of Americans involved in producing goods is near its lowest point since World War II.

The key to a sustainable economic recovery is to make things in America once again. Or, as President Barack Obama said in December, "We want to create and sell products all over the world that are stamped with three simple words: 'Made in America.' That's our goal."

The manufacturing jobs we've lost provided solid, middle-class livings. Average total compensation is about $63,000 for nonmanufacturing jobs, but nearly $74,000 for manufacturing jobs, a difference of more than 17 percent. Manufacturing still accounts for 11 percent of GDP and is valued at $1.6 trillion. Eighteen million Americans and 1.28 million Californians are employed in this sector.

Generations of Americans worked to support their families on assembly lines and factory floors. With advances in technology, today's jobs are understandably different. But that is not an excuse to cede our role as the world's top producer.

Our competitors are ramping up investments in manufacturing in an effort to ensure the industries and jobs of the future will be created there, not in the United States. This is why "Made in America" must be our national economic strategy, not just a slogan. We must invest in education and build a well-prepared workforce. We must end the disgraceful tax policies that reward corporations for shipping American jobs overseas. And we must fight for a fair playing field by holding countries like China accountable for unfair trade practices.

It's not just government that can help swing the pendulum back toward a robust manufacturing economy. Each of us can do our part. That Texas family was able to fill their house with products made from across America, most of which were the same price or less expensive than the imports they had before.

Economists estimate that 200,000 new jobs could be created if every American spent just $64 more per year on American-made products. It's just a matter of taking the time to ask where a product was made.

With this in mind, I will host a "Make it in America" exhibition at the San Mateo County Fair on Saturday and Sunday. It will showcase a wide range of local and American companies including Casa Sanchez Salsa, Chevrolet, As Fresh as it Gets, See's Candies, Intuitive Surgical, McRoskey Mattress and many more. Check out the exhibit and see all the great American-made products that are available right here in our region.

I hope this exhibit will get individual consumers and businesses thinking about the positive impact buying American products can have on our nation. I make it a point to check the labels on the things I purchase.

Business, labor and consumer leaders are touting "Make it in America" because we can all agree on the importance of a jobs agenda based on out-innovating, out-educating and out-building our competitors. America has a proud tradition of manufacturing that built the middle class and established our standing as the world's strongest economy. For decades, this standing has been slipping, but we have the power to change that -- one purchase at a time. For working families to make it in America, we need to "Make it in America."

JACKIE SPEIER (D-San Mateo) represents the 12th Congressional District. She wrote this for this newspaper.