Brian Mittge Commentary: It’s Time to Buy American

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If there’s one thing that Americans agree on — and one thing that we actually have the power to control with our everyday actions — it’s that we want to build things in America again.

I say “again,” but the reality is that we still do make a lot of things in America — but they’re often not the things we actually buy at the store. I guess it seems cheaper and easier for us to buy things that are made overseas and shipped here in those giant container ships like the one that got stuck in the Suez Canal last month. 

There’s been a “Buy American” movement for decades, but it doesn’t seem to direct most of our daily purchases.

In a few cases, there really aren’t American-made options — at least for not until we collectively demand them. Most of the time, though, if you make the effort, you can buy things that are made in the USA. (But note that the patriotic flags and “Assembled in America!” labels don’t mean the same thing, as the component parts are still mostly made overseas.)

Among the many lessons we could and should learn from the pandemic is that supply chains can break. We need production capacity close to home that can ramp up to build the things we find we suddenly need.

My day job is for the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturing association. During the early weeks of the pandemic, I was blessed with the opportunity to work with some of our state’s manufacturers who were ramping up capacity to build personal protective equipment (PPE), from masks and gloves to high-tech equipment.

These guys stayed up all night, worked all weekend, to figure out how to remake their shop floors to produce what the people, physicians and businesses of our state need to stay safe.

Their creativity astounded me. As one example, a business in Yakima that makes the bags for your tortillas and the disposable containers for your ballpark hot dogs instead turned to making millions of isolation gowns for hospital workers.

Closer to home, you saw Sandstone Distillery in Tenino make hand sanitizer that they gave away for free.

We saw how important it is to have businesses around that can still make things.

Fortunately, Washington and our local hometowns still have plenty of them, even if we tend to think everything is made in China these days.

As part of my job I’ve taken several tours around the state to see Washington manufacturers in action. It’s been inspiring. A few examples in Lewis County come to mind:

• Churchill Gloves in Centralia, which has been making high-quality leather gloves since the 1890s;

• Cardinal Glass in Winlock, which makes energy efficient window glass;

• Braun Northwest in Chehalis, which makes emergency vehicles;

• Experimental Aircraft Metal Fabrication in Curtis, which makes and repairs unique aircraft.

That’s in addition to hundreds of other businesses we’ve toured across the state that make just about everything.

A few years ago the Port of Chehalis compiled a list of “Made in Chehalis” goods. They came up with well more than 50 different goods, from pre-insulated piping and firearm parts to railcars, furniture and carpet.

I sleep every night on a Corsicana mattress that was made in Winlock, which we purchased at Just Wood Furniture.

It might take a little more time and searching to find a made-in-America alternative, but they are usually available. Check the labels when you’re shopping on local store shelves. There are also websites like madeinamerica.co, ibuyamericanstore.com and madeinamericastore.com that make it easier to shop for goods made here in the USA.

It might cost a little more (but often it doesn’t) to buy American-made goods, but when you do, you’re not only supporting jobs for our fellow Americans, you’re also supporting the manufacturing capacity that will keep our country strong the next time a crisis hits.

Politicians can pass laws and make policies, but the ultimate decision rests with you and me. Will we take the time and check the label before putting items in our cart?

Make our country stronger by buying American, and we’ll all win.

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Do you make or sell a made-in-Lewis-County product? Let me know about it at brianmittge@hotmail.com.

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