Made in America - Baseball Cards, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet
July 6, 2011
by William Szczepanek
In May of 2011 Topps, recently acquired and taken private by Michael Eisner's Tornante Company and Madison Dearborn Partners, revealed that they were extending the lease of their lower Manhattan offices for ten more years. The company currently has manufacturing facilities in both Pennsylvania and Texas. While they may be able to save some money if they outsourced the production of cards they have a perspective that their image could be hurt if they moved their strictly American product to another country. They also realized that in order to compete in today's business environment they need to have the input of workers and need to make decisions quickly.
Topps produces images of sports personalities on pieces of cardboard. Now this doesn't seem to be technically challenging or even en vogue, but they have realized something that many other companies who have off-shored the production of their products will soon come to realize - that the workers are critical to keeping products popular and viable. Innovation in America is dependent on American minds that understand the American culture. Topps produces more than cardboard sports cards. They make sports and entertainment collectibles. To do this they need to know what people want. This fact has been understood for many decades as the ideas of engineers, scientists and production workers provided a synergistic force that was considered essential for long term success. It used to be that companies succeeded financially because they produced the best products and the bottom line took care of itself. Money could be saved through more efficient means of production, while quality was always maintained or improved.
More recently, especially over the last ten years, the focus of most CEOs and the government has been to produce goods more cheaply. The bottom line has become the focus rather than the end result and in so doing the quality of products and services have suffered. More contaminated foods, more products that are dangerous to us and our children and customer service that is so poor that customer service departments have grown considerably.
Why is it that the premier maker of baseball cards can realize the misfortunes of outsourcing but other companies with products that directly affect our health and well being can't or don't seem to care?
We are now dependent on foreign countries for access to our satellites as the Space Shuttle is soon to be scuttled and we work on a new method called the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle that will send astronauts into space in a non-reusable capsule that sits atop a multi-stage rocket to be launched into space. The capsule will then return to earth by parachute. Sounds a lot like what we did 40 years ago. Maybe the engineers and scientists from that time were pretty good with their initial design. I have no problem with realizing that something from the past may be better. Let's get on with it. But, wait. Now we have money problems and plans have been set back. I guess we can just let the Russians and Chinese do it. After all, they are our friends now.
Making things in America doesn't have to exclude making things in other countries. Oscar Mayer hot dogs are made in northeast Columbia, but Vienna Beef Hot Dogs are still made in my old neighborhood in Chicago. Chevrolet makes cars around the world at nearly 100 plants, but many are still made in the USA. Much of our food now comes from abroad, but Sara Lee apple pies still are produced in Travers City, MI.
Making things in the USA is important for many reasons. Workers in factories pay taxes that support our state and federal governments. Workers then have money to buy more, which is the largest driver of the US economy and in turn, pay more taxes. Our debt problems would not be nearly as bad if more workers of all kinds and levels had jobs that enabled them to pay taxes.
Making things in this country saves on shipping costs and with the constant threat of increased oil prices it will actually cost less to make many items locally. The most important reason to continue to make things here at home is that once you allow someone else to do it, you tend not to remember how to do it yourself and ultimately you lose control of your most valuable resource, your people; those who helped you to innovate and be successful in the first place.
I must applaud Topps' decision to keep their offices in the USA and maintain production facilities here. The decision will serve them well as other companies begin to make their way back, if it isn't too late for them.