In the discussions surrounding modern manufacturing in the US today, there are few terms as meaningless as “multinational.” Typically it is used by the black helicopter, Trilateral Commission crowd to conjure up images of a large faceless international corporation, frenetically packing up its jobs like so many widgets and shipping them all to China. If you Google “Lou Dobbs” and “Multinationals” for example, you’ll see tens of thousands of results. It is part of his lexicon, part of the imagined rift between classes that lie at the heart of his ratings.
Regular blog readers know we’ve written about this before, especially about how it is a term without meaning. When we think of multinationals, a few members come instantly to mind. We think of Sandy Westlund-Deenihan of tiny Quality Float Works outside Chicago. She exports now to some 10 countries, including China. Kendig Kneen of Al-jon makes big stuff like car crushers, sends them all over the world. No, wait — “multinational” only means that they have plants overseas, maybe. OK, makes us think of Stephanie Harkness of Pacific Plastics, a small manufacturer and one of the newest members of the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiation, who recently opened a plant in Bangalore. And we think of Tony Raimondo of Behlen Manufacturing in Columbus, Nebraska. He incurred the wrath of no less an expert on multinationals than John Kerry himself for opening a plant in China. Fact is, more people are employed in Columbus, Nebraska today — and the company is far healthier — because they decided to get in the global game.
But no, the Dobbsians say, “multinationals” are great big US companies who dare to do business globally — big multi-billion dollar businesses who have thousands of people and operations all over the world. Hmmmm…. Like Boeing, maybe? How about Case New Holland (CNH), the huge agricultural equipment manufacturer? Now they’d most certainly be “multinationals” of the sort that draw the ire of the Dobbsians, right?
And so we took a look at these two companies. Who is CNH, for example? Attached is a list of suppliers to the company to get you started. It lists some 1500 suppliers — mostly small and medium manufacturers — around the United States that supply them with parts for the equipment they make all over the world. They even have a website dedicated to telling their story about how trade benefits all manufacturers — and all CNH employees.
And what about Boeing? With almost 150,000 employees and about $55 billion in revenue, is there a bigger company worthier of the “multinational” title? But look at this fact sheet — for anyone interested in the facts. They export 70% of what they make. US suppliers (read: manufacturers) account for almost 80% of all their commercial airplane purchases. In 2005 alone, they paid over $27 billion to over 26,000 domestic suppliers in all 50 states.
Our boss — NAM President John Engler — is fond of saying that the line of demarcation here is not large vs. small, as we’ve seen over and over again. The only meaningful distinction is between those companies engaged in international trade and those who are not. At the end of the day big manufacturers are just a bunch of small manufacturers making stuff here in the good ol’ US of A and shipping it all over the world. And there are enough small manufacturers in the global game directly. We are proud to count all these manufacturers, large and small, in our membership, multinationals all.
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