Outsourcing is changing business as usual
Bill Virgin Seattle P.I.: Oct. 23,
THOSE WHO WERE AROUND for the Nisqually Quake
of February 2001 remember the experience vividly: It started loud and strong and
got louder and stronger, but for all the shaking and how long it went on, damage
was remarkably light and scattered.
There's a different sort of
earthquake going on in that territory where business and government policy
intersect: It's barely perceptible, occurring in scattered locales, building
slowly in intensity.
But by the time it's done, it could thoroughly
rearrange the landscape of political alliances, trade policy and business
The epicenter of this particular earthquake is the
nation's small and medium-size manufacturers. Like many, they’ve been watching
with concern the continued offshore outsourcing of American technology,
production and jobs. Unlike many, they have firsthand experience with the
impacts of that trend. Those small and medium-size manufacturers are the
customers, and suppliers of big manufacturers who are shipping that work
“We've seen the mechanism firsthand,” says Dorothy Weissert
of Weissert Tool & Design in Washougal in Clark County. The company has
designed molds and production tools for Fortune 500 companies, "and the next
thing we know, they're taking them to Singapore."
Weissert is one of
two representatives in Washington for an emerging grass-roots organization known
as Save American Manufacturing Now (www.samnow.org), which Weissert says is
trying to get government
officials to "connect the dots" between trade policy, job losses and, long-term
To read some of the rhetoric on the Save
American Manufacturing Now Web site, if you didn't have the logo on display, you
might think you were reading the Web site of the AFL-CIO.
illustrates one of the potentially earth-shaking changes afoot.
Business is not monolithic; even in the best of times, small and large business
uneasily co-exist in large umbrella groups purporting to represent all or large
swaths of the world of commerce.
In these times, the fault line is
widening. John McCoy of Bellingham's Omnitech Technical Associates, also a Save
American Manufacturing Now representative, says big companies that think they’ll
win by playing the offshoring/ outsourcing game "are going to wind up getting
beat at the end."
But many big companies argue they have to chase the
supposedly lower cost of outsourcing to survive, and many others don't concede
the argument that the trend poses long-term risks in the form of lost control of
Consequently, the big trade organizations
are seen as siding with big companies, at least by the small players.
Thus the emergence of groups such as SAMN - and thus the creation-of new
alliances with labor and others of a similar mind on trade topics. That has
already put strains on organizations such as the National Association of
Manufacturers, which is finding itself at the center of a tug of war on taking a
stand on trade issues.
The other seismic shift could come in the
political realm. A story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin is where
SAMN got its start) recounts the success the group has had in convincing members
of Congress -Republican and Democrat - to its cause on trade issues. The story
quotes Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., who won an endorsement from SAMN: "Late last year, suddenly,
small-business people started coming to my town meetings, especially in the
eastern part of the state, whom I'd never seen before. They made it very clear
they were almost exclusively conservative Republicans..... We realized they were
a new, rather unique coalition of manufacturers, who simply believe these trade
agreements have shipped our economy overseas."
this promises to reopen the Main Street vs Wall Street split that has long been
a feature of the party. Democrats, too, could find their party fractured on this
It's unwise to predict that the new alliances now forming will
be permanent. The new and seemingly unlikely allies may find out there's a
reason they didn't like each other in the first place. And they may find that
their proposed remedies are incompatible with one another.
equally unsafe to presume the status quo will be left standing when the shaking
stops. That issue resonates with too many people, the potential consequences are
too great and the trend is too long-term for this to be an issue forgotten in
the next campaign cycle. The needles on the seismograph are already twitching
now. Within a few months, they may be zinging furiously back and forth across
the graph of the America's political scene and its economy.
Bill Virgin can be reached at 206-448-8319 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His
column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.