“Buy American” provision aims to level the playing field


A military authorization law that President Obama signed on Friday included a “Buy American” provision aimed at boosting manufacturing in the United States instead of sending orders to China.

The provision, which bars the Defense Department from buying solar panels made in China, could help the United States gain market share from the Chinese, which produced half of the world’s solar panels last year, the New York Times reported Monday.

While the provision is expected to meet criticism among Chinese officials, domestic manufacturers see it as a sign that the U.S. government is taking seriously the need to return manufacturing jobs to the United States.

“It’s a positive thing,” said Mitch Liss, co-owner and executive vice president at Edsal Manufacturing, a Chicago-based producer of steel shelving and cabinets.  “The more we buy from American manufacturing, the more people are put back to work and the better our economy is going to be.”

China’s value-added tax has created what many U.S. producers consider an unfair trade system, with e U.S. manufacturers required to pay import duties when their products enter China in addition to taxes they’ve paid in the U.S., while Chinese manufacturers have their taxes rebated by the government. “It’s not a level playing field,” Liss said.

`Made in the U.S.A’  means jobs to Edsal workers

Edsal Manufacturing, which was was founded in 1952 by Ed Saltzberg and now is run by son Bruce Saltzberg and son-in-law Liss, currently employs more than 500 unionized workers in what Liss describes as hard-core manufacturing jobs. Perks are few and far between, yet workers appreciate the company’s “made in the U.S.A.” philosophy and its commitment to keeping jobs at home.

“We all are aware of the fact that being a producer here in the United States impacts our job,” said employee Art Courtney, director of information services and an employee at Edsal for 31 years. “We want our jobs to stay in this country.”

Edsal uses steel from Indiana and boxes from Illinois, reducing costs and saving energy by minimizing the need to transport supplies and hard goods. Keeping production local means Edsal eliminates overseas freight costs, and that savings more than pays for the price of domestic labor, Liss said.   “As long as our labor is less than the freight cost, we should be in very good shape,” he said.

The company asks suppliers to call major retailers who sell imported merchandise to “tell our story,” Liss   said, because buying Edsal shelving and cases ultimately means more local jobs.

— Ann Meyer