I've always done my best to support American workers and American businesses in the hopes that they would support me and my work. Over the years this has grown increasingly difficult.
At first, it was because the things I need aren't made here anymore. Unable to compete with the cheaper cost of materials and labor abroad, American businesses started closing up shop. Every year it's a bigger struggle to try and support the American economy, and that's very sad (especially given the dire straights we're in now).
Here's some of the things I've had to purchase over the past year which illustrates this.
FEBRUARY: • Custom Playing Cards, Offset Printing...
USA: $3 (min. 10,000 decks). CHINA: $3 (min 1,000 decks)
Ummm... yeah, I only needed 500 decks, so I pretty much had to go to China since my heart was set on offset printing. There was no way I would be able to get rid of 9,500 extra decks or afford a $30,000 investment. Unfortunately, the card stock and print quality from China was not what I was hoping for, but that's what you get for trying to save $29,000.
JUNE: • Molded Wooden Baskets...
USA: Not available. CHINA: $4 each, 500 qty.
Yeah... it's hard to buy American when you can't even find the item made in America.
JULY: • Specialty Plastics...
USA: $1800 delivered. CHINA: $1350 delivered.
This was a small part of a bigger project, so the $450 was not a major issue. I save money for my clients wherever I can, but these items were time sensitive and I worried about the international delivery messing up my project. So I decided to buy American. At least I did until I found out from somebody that the American company didn't manufacturer their own plastics anymore, but instead imported them from China. Sure their experience with foreign imports might be a help... but, in the end, it didn't seem worth the extra money for an intermediary when I could go directly to the source.
OCTOBER: • Custom Packaging Prototypes...
USA: $129 each, 20 qty. CHINA: $22 each, 20 qty.
These are complex prototypes requiring intricate pieces to be assembled by hand. The price difference is staggering, yet there was no discernible difference in the quality of the samples I received. If I were buying just one prototype, I might have considered the American company because the shipping from China would add to the price... but when you're buying twenty of them, it would be grossly irresponsible to saddle my client with that kind of unnecessary cost.
NOVEMBER: • Custom 3D Models...
USA: $750 each, unrigged - $1500 each, rigged. INDIA: $500 each, rigged.
At first this seemed like a no-brainer. The work portfolios were similar, so paying three times more would be absurd. Wouldn't it? But after interviewing the artists, my decision was easy. The American modeler asked numerous questions and was curious to get my input for translating the object from 2D to 3D. They truly cared about getting it right and making me happy. Interviewing the Indian modeler was frustrating, because I never got the sense that they knew or cared what I wanted. They guaranteed my satisfaction, but I didn't feel a part of the process, and wasn't confident they could deliver. In the end, the extra cost in going American was worth my piece of mind. From what I've seen so far, the added money was totally worth it.
Looking back on these and other projects, I usually end up buying foreign for physical products, domestic for conceptual work... even though going domestic always costs me more. I worry greatly that soon the cost difference will be so overwhelming that I'll have no choice but to hire foreign for everything. This is a very scary prospect, because it's highlighting a much bigger and far scarier picture of where we're headed. If this trend continues the only jobs available will be service-oriented... this country won't make anything.
If only I could outsource my doubts and fears for the United States of America. It would be a lot easier to sleep at night.