Bill Kimmerle, president and owner of hardwood product manufacturer Baker McMillen Co. in Stow, sees products imported to the United States from China as nothing short of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
“We are in an economic war with China,” Kimmerle says. “The casualties on the field of battle are all the buildings and all the industrial and commercial sites that are available all over the place. There’s an absolute glut of places where you could have manufacturing because all these people are going out of business.”
Kimmerle and manufacturers like him have reason to be concerned. The state of Ohio lost 97,100 manufacturing jobs, or 8.9 percent, between July 2000 and December 2002, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the fourth highest number of jobs lost in the country, behind California, Texas and New York.
Kimmerle says most of those jobs were lost to foreign competitors like Mexico and China — countries which can undercut U.S. manufacturers on price due a cheap labor pool and little to no governmental regulation. The United States’ trade deficit with China rose to $103 billion last year, the largest with any country, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.
Even Kimmerle was forced to have some of Baker McMillen’s products made overseas.
“I hate it,” he says. “I hate moving products off-shore to be competitive because we become part of the problem, and I don’t want to be part of the problem, but it’s a matter of survival right now. Hopefully, we can also be part of the solution.”
It’s not just Kimmerle who is feeling the pressure. About half (118) of the employers who responded to the Smart Business Network/Employers Resource Council Workplace Survey are manufacturers. For the first time in the survey’s four-year history, products from China — and Asia in general — were singled out as a top challenge facing many employers.
It ranked as the fifth overall concern across all industries.
That’s why Kimmerle and Thomas Murdough Jr., president of Step2 Co., a manufacturer of children’s toys in Streetsboro, are campaigning with state Sen. Kevin Coughlin (R-Cuyahoga Falls) and organizations including the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to help make lawmakers more aware of this crisis.
“These groups have the ear of Congress,” Kimmerle says. “We need to get involved with these groups and to speak up, force the issue, and push hard. We can’t be heard individually, but as a collective group, we have a voice.”
The best defensive move U.S. manufacturers can make against foreign competition is to continually innovate and patent new products. Kimmerle says Baker McMillen just closed the patent process on two new brush roller designs for vacuum cleaners.
“You have to continually develop new stuff,” Kimmerle says. “That’s your only weapon — proprietary processes, patented items and new products. Meanwhile, you have to fight the political battle because it’s tough as nails out there.” How to reach: Baker McMillen, (330) 923-8300 or www.baker-mcmillen.com