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'Made on Earth'.

"Which is more American?" quizzed a headline that caught my eye in the March 22 edition of USA Today.

What made this headline doubly intriguing was the graphic directly below it, showing a side-by-side comparison of a Chevy HHR and a Toyota Sienna. The graphic observed that 41 percent of the HHR's content was "made in the USA or Canada" vs. 85 percent of the Sienna's content which was "made in the USA or Canada." It further noted that the HHR is assembled in Mexico, while the Sienna is assembled in Indiana.

What would have seemed impossible 20 to 25 years ago and implausible 10 to 15 years ago, now merely seems ironic. At the same time that U.S. icon GM, the world's largest automaker, is sourcing more than half of its parts and production for the HHR outside of the United States, Japanese stalwart Toyota, the world's most profitable automaker, is employing the opposite strategy for its Sienna and creating more U.S. manufacturing jobs in the process.

The USA Today story illustrates the extent that globalization has put a topsy-turvy spin on the U.S. auto industry. Toyota is but one of many foreign car manufacturers that have opened plants in the United States to get closer to its customers here. Like GM, Ford and Chrysler have looked beyond the U.S. border to source parts, production and assembly of its products to lower costs.

The Wood Products World

Over the past decade, globalization also has left an indelible mark on the U.S. wood products industry. China's emergence as a world furniture super power has come at the expense of U.S. residential furniture manufacturing. Many of the best known names--Broyhill, Pulaski and Hooker to name but a few--have completely shut down their domestic wood furniture manufacturing operations in favor of outsourcing full Lines of furniture from China and elsewhere.

There seems to be no end to the hemorrhaging of U.S. home furniture manufacturing output and jobs. Last month, Bassett Furniture announced it would close one of its three plants and step up its import program. In a twist to this recurring story line, Richardson Bros., which manufactured solid wood furniture for 120 years before closing its Wisconsin factory in 2003, recently said it also would quit importing furniture and exit the furniture business altogether.

On the flip side, recent years have seen pockets of foreign investment in U.S. wood products manufacturing. Most notably, the popularity of laminate flooring has led to the development of U.S. plants by Pergo, Unilin and Kronotex. On the furniture front, Swedwood, the manufacturing division of international furniture retail giant Ikea, recently revealed plans to build an 810,000-square-foot factory in Danville, VA. In an unrelated announcement, Sauder Woodworking, the largest U.S. furniture manufacturer of ready-to-assemble furniture, has inked an agreement with Ikea to supply kitchen cabinet components.

The composite panel industry has witnessed buyouts of several particleboard and MDF mills by Aconcagua Timber Corp., a Chilean concern, and Last year's blockbuster buyout of six Weyerhaeuser panel plants by Flakeboard of Canada, which has recently pledged to upgrade several of them with new melamine production capability.

What's in a Label?

What does "Made in America" or made in anywhere, for that matter, mean today? Even a 10-man custom furniture shop in Wichita, KS, can attend the International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta or the AWFS Fair in Las Vegas and develop a global supply chain that encompasses everything from machinery, tooling and software, through raw materials, components and hardware. That same shop might well have a multicultural workforce, too.

Several years ago, the American Furniture Manufacturers Assn. attempted to create a nationally recognized labeling program for American-made furniture that was based on a majority of components being manufactured domestically, plus assembled and finished here. That effort went by the wayside when the AFMA morphed into the American Home Furnishings Alliance in 2004, a move which eliminated the requirement of members to have a U.S. manufacturing facility.

Other than the hundreds of thousands of laid-off workers and affected industry suppliers, it's hard to find many Americans who seem to worry about the erosion of U.S. manufacturing. While investors put an emphasis on maximizing profits, consumers show they care more about how much they paid than where their products were made.

Given this seeming indifference to the country of origin and considering the melding of investment, equipment and supply sourcing at factories everywhere on the globe, perhaps someday soon' Labels such as "Made in the USA" or "Made in China" will give way to a more accurate bearing--"Made on Earth."
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Title Annotation:FOR THE RECORD
Author:Christianson, Rich
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Apr 1, 2007
Previous Article:Perception is everything.
Next Article:Texas Woodworking Show has successful three-day run.

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