By Susan Salisbury
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
DELRAY BEACH — Tainted toys, dog food and drywall have all made their way into the United States from China. Meanwhile, the number of U.S. manufacturing jobs has reached a low – fewer than 12 million – not seen since 1941, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Julie and Adam Reiser of Delray Beach, parents of six boys, were concerned about this double whammy, so they took action.
The couple founded Made in USA Certified in April 2009. Through an audit of a manufacturer’s supply chain, it verifies that the “Made in the U.S.A.” claim is true, then issues a seal of certification. The seal gives consumers peace of mind and helps support and promote U.S. products and services, the Reisers said.
“Ronald Reagan said, ‘trust and verify.’ Our slogan is ‘trust and certify,’ ” Julie Reiser said. “We are really passionate about it. We believe U.S. manufacturing, and even the service industry, is an important part of keeping U.S. jobs,” said Julie Reiser, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution who once worked in New York’s garment industry. Her husband, who previously worked for a technology company, served in the Navy.
Already, 42 companies have paid fees from $2,500 to $25,000 for the verification and certification, said Adam Reiser. Eleven companies are in the process of becoming certified. Made in USA Certified has grown to 10 employees.
The firm’s goal is to keep consumers safe and companies honest. Some have to be turned down because the product has to be made from components primarily from the U.S., not just assembled here, the Reisers said. Anything that’s ingested must contain ingredients totally from the United States.
While publishing a now-defunct magazine called Made in U.S.A., the Reisers became aware some companies were making false claims about the origins of their products. “There was a product that was really from China, but it had ‘Made in U.S.A.’ stamped all over it. It was a baby bottle or something,” Adam Reiser said. “My hackles were up. I realized we needed to verify companies’ claims. Then a friend said, ‘Why not just certify them? No one else is doing it.’ ”
A ‘buy U.S.A.’ movement
Companies in business for decades, such as Tough Traveler Ltd., a family-owned business that makes luggage, backpacks and other products in Schenectady, N.Y., have obtained the certification as well as companies that are relatively new. Nancy Gold, president of Tough Traveler, which employs 150 people, said the certification gives consumers the assurance that what they are buying is “truly made” in the U.S. “In the last year and a half we have seen quite an increase in people who buy from us who do want something U.S. made. They have gone out of their way looking for it,” she said. There are very few textile bag and pack manufacturers left in the U.S., Gold said. Buying everything from nylon to zippers in the U.S. to make Tough Traveler’s products helps keep those companies afloat, she said.
All American Clothing Co. of Arcanum, Ohio, sells jeans, shirts, jackets and other clothing made in the U.S. It keeps prices competitive by selling from its website, rather than in stores, said its president, Lawson Nickol. Most jeans sold in the U.S. are made in China and Mexico.
“We design them. We buy the raw goods and ship the raw goods to the subcontractors out there, those that are left. The subcontractors build the jeans and send them back to us. For instance, one of our subcontractors used to do 50,000 pairs of jeans a day for Levi,” he said.
All American sources its cotton from the U.S., Nickol said, rather than from such countries as Uzbekistan, where an estimated 2 million children are forced to work in the cotton fields, according to the International Labor Rights Forum.
The impact of lost manufacturing jobs extends beyond the immediate jobs to lost taxes for schools, infrastructure, Social Security and more, Nickol said. “One of my passions is to add jobs every year. It makes me sleep good at night,” Nickol said.
Cynthia and Tom Darmstandler of Oakdale, Calif., founded Kona’s Chips. Their black Pomeranian, Kona, nearly died after eating dried chicken breasts from China. The family began making chicken jerky treats for Kona, and in 2008, started a business making the treats from chicken produced in California. “There are a lot of people claiming their pet treats are made in the U.S.A., especially after the pet food scare,” Cynthia Darmstandler said. The certification provides a way to prove that the dog treats are made here. “There is such a ‘buy U.S.A.’ movement going on right now,” Darmstandler said.
Label displayed overseas
Mike Lorelli, president of Water-Jel Technologies, has manufactured burn care products in Carlstadt, N.J., for 20 years, said the 150-employee company completed the Made in USA certification in June. He plans to display the seal on products sold in more than 50 countries. “I am the exclusive supplier for branches of the military. When you think about our people in the line of duty getting burned, people in tanks taking mortar shells, and all the other things, it is nice for them to know the product used to help their burns is made in the U.S.A.,” Lorelli said.
Julie Reiser believes there’s a fundamental shift taking place, and she’s proud to be a part of it. “People are making the connection,” Reiser said. “The reason people cannot find jobs is that we have shipped all our manufacturing and jobs overseas.”