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Consumers willing to pay more for American-made products

| Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

It's becoming downright American to make stuff in America. Small manufacturers, craftsmen and retailers are marketing the “Made in USA” tag to score points with consumers for employing stateside, says Margarita Mendoza, founder of the Made in America Movement, a lobbying organization for small manufacturers.

It's working: More than 80 percent of Americans are willing to pay more for Made-in-USA products, 93 percent of whom say it's because they want to keep jobs in the United States, according to a survey by Boston Consulting Group.

In partisan times, it's one of the few issues on which Democrats and Republicans agree.

When considering similar products made in the U.S. versus China, the average American is willing to pay up to 60 percent more for U.S.-made wooden baby toys, 30 percent more for U.S.-made mobile phones and 19 percent more for U.S.-made gas ranges, the survey finds.

Now Wal-Mart wants a piece of the action. The behemoth retailer, embroiled over the past year with worker protests and foreign bribery investigations, pledged recently to source $50 billion of products in the U.S. over the next 10 years, Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove says.

It's not alone. Mendoza says both Caterpillar and 3M have also made efforts to source more in this country.

“Regardless if this is a PR ploy or not, it doesn't matter. A lot more people will look for the Made-in-USA tag,” she says, adding that, considering Wal-Mart's size, $5 billion a year is only “a drop in the bucket,” for the retailer whose 2012 sales reached almost $444 billion.

Kyle Rancourt says his American-made shoe company, Rancourt & Co., hit it big as concern over U.S. jobs mounted when the recession arrived in 2009. But he says he lies awake at night worrying if Made-in-USA is just a passing fad.

“It's inevitable that times will change,” Rancourt says. “But I am still holding out hope that this has become a core value of our country.”

Mendoza says that if buying American turns out to be a passing fad, the country is in trouble.

“If they don't understand the economic factor, we need to pull on their heartstrings,” she says. “The thought of having a country like China taking over — that alone is bone-chilling.”

Do folks care enough about U.S. manufacturing jobs to permanently change the way they shop?

David Aaker, vice chairman of the brand consulting firm Prophet, says the companies that get the most credit for being American, such as Apple and Cisco, don't even source products in the U.S.

“I don't think it matters unless it becomes visible,” Aaker says. “The most common way for that is if something bad happens, like if Nike gets some press about conditions in factories overseas.”

Just watch out for phony Made-in-USA claims.

It's illegal to claim a product is U.S.-made unless both the product and all its components are sourced in the U.S. Even products that could imply a phony country of origin with a flag or country outline are verboten.

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