Being a business owner of a manufacturing company located in the United States, I have been asked a very popular question quite frequently. That question is “What does Made in the USA mean to you?” When first asked, I had to think hard about it because it is a feeling and sometimes feelings are difficult to put into words. Since that first time being asked, I have fine-tuned my answer and gotten quicker with my response. A week or two ago I was asked to answer in only three words! That one was a challenge, but I managed to come up with “united we make”.
So now, when you think about what your answer would be to that question, what comes to your mind? There is no right or wrong answer because it is based on your opinion, your character and what is important to you. There are so many different factors that all of us consider when we think about how to answer. It really is a personal response that can trigger a lot of emotion with some people. When I listen to others' responses, many include comments about politics, patriotism, reshoring, skilled trades, sweatshops, fair trade, labor unions, price wars, and so much more. Well, for me, all those things are important elements, but my answer begins with my mentor, my industrial dad, and includes much patriotism and some family traditions. To better explain my answer, I need to dig a little deeper into my personal history.
First, what is an industrial dad? The only criteria that come to my mind when I hear “industrial dad” is that it is a male parent that is related to industry. That gives such a broad spectrum, I am thinking there must be such a vast number of industrial dads in the world. Young and old, in training and well experienced, in factories, offices, retired, passed on, with their own offspring, foster children and stepchildren. With so many industrial dads out there, imagine how many children can claim their rights to having an industrial dad. I am one of those children and I have recently come to know many more.
My industrial dad was born at the start of the Great Depression and grew up experiencing WWII from home with his parents by his side while his four older brothers served on the front lines. After graduating high school in the late 1940’s, he immediately started earning a living as a machinist to support himself and his parents. In the early 1950’s he served in the US Army during the Korean Conflict. He was trained to repair guided missiles and was offered time at MIT to earn a degree, but he turned it down putting his family first. He left the army after two years and returned home to care for his aging parents and reentered the civilian workforce with the skills and experience he gained when serving his country. His first job out of the army was in manufacturing and he never left that industry for the rest of his life living past his 90th birthday.
Both of my parents were born in the 1930s and are part of the Silent Generation. Pew Research Center uses 1928 to 1945 as birth years for this generation. Growing up during the Great Depression and in the troubled times of WWII, this generation witnessed many difficulties with their parents. The generation before them were about changing the system but the Silents were about keeping their heads down and working hard, thus earning their name. When I did this little bit of research about our generations, I thought to myself that suits my dad’s work ethic to a tee. And, like I said before, I have recently come to know many others with industrial dads from the Silent Generation.
Because my dad was my mentor, most of my work ethic developed from watching him. There were not many things that stopped him when it came to work. He was a problem solver that always went through the challenge not around it or, worse yet, let it stop him. He thought analytically and mechanically but he also knew how to handle the people he was responsible for, and the work always got done by him and his crew. I am sure that comes from his Army days. He loved his country and serving it was one of his most prideful accomplishments of his life.
My dad came from a very large family. All four of his brothers made it home from the war and they each lived long lives, but I would be lying if I said that the war did not change them. My dad would talk often about how lucky his family was to have them all come home. Being the youngest boy, my dad took on the responsibility of caring for his parents until they died which meant I grew up living in a house with extended family. Because my grandma lived with us, there were many extended family visits by relatives from afar. My dad was always one to offer a helping hand to his family and support them in any way possible. His caring nature spilled over into me because many times I have been caught extending a helping hand as well.
So, knowing that I was raised on hard work, a healthy dose of, and many family traditions, my answer to the question “What Does Made in the USA mean to you?” is fairly easy for me to express once I get my thoughts in order. Made in the USA means to me “Honest, hardworking, skilled craftsmen making the best products and services they possibly can on American soil while being paid a respectable wage in a healthy environment. American owned manufacturing companies need support from their country, their government, and their neighbors to make this happen.”
Now that answer was a little longer than the three-word version I was challenged to come up with a few weeks ago, but I really feel it encompasses my feelings about what Made in the USA means. And because I own a manufacturing company, a lot of my ideals transfer into the culture of my company. You can see it when you walk our shop floor, listen in on the daily meetings, and when you interact with our employees. I challenge my employees to work through their trials and remind them often that we are a team and to grow through what we go through. I encourage helping each other when things are hectic, or a bad day comes our way. I inspire a strong work ethic and honest integrity in my employees. And I will always stand behind my country with great pride and patriotism and believe my country should stand behind my business as well.
All of this has been a discovery process for me in the last year. It started with the pandemic and the constant state of pivot as a business owner. Then came supply shortages, the economic fallout, remote working, lack of skilled trade workers, manufacturing industry growth one month while the next month regression. I think it is fair to say that in our country’s manufacturing industry, the ride has been a roller coaster for the past 18 months to say the least. However, through it all, I have felt a growing sense of camaraderie with other manufacturing business owners. As if the struggles we have faced in the last year or two has brought us together and more united than ever before.
My dad’s recent death caused me to reflect more on the big picture of my life and those around me, particularly my family. This reflection process has renewed my appreciation for my parent’s struggles, hardships, and resilience to overcome their misfortunes and live such long lives. In turn, I now see how that resilience has transferred to me, my beliefs, and the leadership style of my business. Through my grieving process, I am grateful for the strength I have received from all those that have reached out to me to share their own stories of their industrial dads, many from the Silent generation like my own.
My parent’s determination to make it through so much was evident in my mother’s own words at the time of father’s death. Shortly after his passing when asked how she was feeling by a hospice care worker, her response was simply, “We have to make it through this so we will.” Spoken like a true Silent generation member of our society.
Soon after that, I realized my mother’s very words can apply to so much in our society right now. The US manufacturing industry is presently booming but so many struggles stand in our way to making it flourish, from supply chain issues, lack of skilled workers, and all the long-lasting effects of the pandemic. Can you imagine the boom we would be experiencing if so many of these hurdles were not in our way? It is truly a time for the United States manufacturing industry to join together because we have to make it through this, so we will. United we will make.