Manufacturers say ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ tag helps marketing

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Reading Eagle (Pennsylvania)

James A. Dastra has an American car.

He flies an American-made plane and most of the major appliances in his home were made in America.

He even named his business — American Flight Services — after the land he loves.

“I don’t look at every little thing, but on big purchases I’m in business and I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end, so I buy American,” he said.

He’s not alone.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans who reported they first look for an American-made product when shopping, shot up to 36 percent from 20 percent in October 2001.

“That has since retrenched back to about 26 percent, but it’s still a significant percentage of consumers who look for the USA label before buying,” said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, a consumer marketing firm based in Charlotte, N.C.

Manufacturers took note of the surge in patriotic consumerism, with many wanting to make the made-in-America claim. Officials at the Federal Trade Commission said some manufacturers succumbed to the pressure and made false claims about their products.

That really steams consumers such as Dastra.

“I’ll spend an extra buck for an American product, but when I do I want to be sure it is made in America,” he said. “If I’m spending the extra money, I’m entitled to the truth.”

And when he reads stories about the president’s new helicopter being part European, it bothers him.

“That is just ridiculous,” Dastra said. The helicopter, called Marine One when the president is aboard, is one of the most visible and recognized symbols of the United States.

But since the transmission and rotors will be manufactured overseas, even though Lockheed Martin is based in the United States, it will not be allowed to claim Marine One is made in America.

That’s because the Federal Trade Commission requires products that bear the Made in USA label be all or virtually all American.

Take a gas grill. If the knobs and hoses are made in Mexico and everything is produced in the United States, the grill maker could label the grill Made in USA because the knobs are not vital parts, officials said.

But because the transmission and rotors are vital parts of a helicopter, they must be American made for their manufacturer to claim the helicopter was made in the United States, said Laura D. Koss, a senior commission attorney.

“The bottom line is, are consumers going to be misled?” Koss said.

“Foreign companies can make a T-shirt with an American flag or the White House on the front of it, but as long as the label doesn’t say Made in USA, it is not deceptive,” Koss said.

Someone could make a Harley-Davidson T-shirt overseas but customers of Classic Harley Davidson wouldn’t buy it, a spokeswoman for the dealership said.

“Everyone knows Harley-Davidsons are made in the USA,” said Dorothy L. Basile, marketing director of the dealership at 983 James Drive, Bern Township. “Where we see the difference is with the clothing.” “You could put it in the store, but our customers wouldn’t buy it.”

She said all but about 2 percent of a Harley’s parts are American made.

Companies with hybrid products can specify on the label that their products are assembled in the United States with foreign parts.

Selling American-made products is just good business, said Nick Kelley, parts manager of Bike World in Sunnyvale, Calif.

The motorcycle dealership recently began carrying the Victory model street cruisers and touring motorcycles made by Polaris of Minneapolis, Minn.

Polaris specifies that only 5 percent of the parts on its motorcycles are foreign made.

“It really didn’t matter to us,” Kelley said. “But from a marketing standpoint it made sense.”

“People have been really conscious of the Made in USA label since 9-11,” Kelley said. “It makes people feel good like they’re doing something for the country.”

And that combination lock on your bicycle that says Made in USA actually may have been made in Mexico.

A judge ordered Kwikset to stop using the American-made claim after it closed a factory in Anaheim, Calif., moved 12 percent of its work force to Mexico and began to buy key parts overseas.

“Hundreds of jobs were lost and a lot of those jobs were shipped to Mexico,” said Mike Lennett, the Washington attorney who filed the lawsuit.

“In fact, Kwikset applied for NAFTA (North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement) assistance for the displaced Anaheim workers yet they still continued to label their products as all American made and made in USA,” he said.

Consumer advocates agree.

“People today are voting with their wallets,” said Lawrence M. Markey Jr., a staff attorney with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

“If someone tells you their product is made in the USA and you’re a person that matters to, then you may even be willing to pay a little extra,” Markey said. “People don’t want their money going overseas, and they are entitled to the truth.”

Pennsylvania House furniture is a good example, said Robert C. English of the United Steelworkers of America.

La-Z-Boy bought Pennsylvania House and closed the plant in Lewisburg, Union County, English said.

“Now they’re making all their furniture in China, but still calling it Pennsylvania House,” he said. “That doesn’t seem right.”

Consumer Watchdog
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