America's 'Other War'
Wisconsin's manufacturers form
new organization to confront growing trade deficit with China
Though the world’s attention is focused for the moment on
East, America is engaged in another war with
permanent and ominous implications. At least that’s the way Catherine Schuldt sees it. Schuldt is the
owner of Butler Wire & Metal Product, a Menomonee Falls custom metal
fabrication shop, which she says is endangered by America’s trading policies with China.
Schuldt and Jerald Skoff,
president of Badger Metal Tech, Menomonee Falls, are forming the Wisconsin
Chapter of Save American Manufacturing (SAM). Schuldt
is the chairwoman of the new Wisconsin organization, which is putting out a call to arms for the
state’s citizenry and business community to fight for fairer American trade
relations with China. Schuldt
and Skoff aren’t mincing any words.
They see Wisconsin manufacturers increasingly
outsourcing their production work – and jobs – to China, where companies operate with
miniscule labor costs and virtually no environmental standards. Schuldt says those Wisconsin manufacturers are “slitting their
own throats” by outsourcing their production to China. She says the following scenario is
unfolding with alarming frequency. An American company contracts with a Chinese
company to produce parts. However, before a Chinese firm can manufacture an
American company’s wares, the Chinese company needs to know the equations of
the materials, the technology and the processes needed to make those goods.
Once those products are manufactured in China, the Chinese company, replete with
the American technology, begins manufacturing the same product “on the side.”
The Chinese company then sells the pirated products, often even bearing the
American company’s name and logo, at a lower price than the original American
product is being sold. Ultimately, China will displace America as the world’s most powerful
economic force, Schuldt says. America will be beholden to the prices and
the timetables that Chinese companies will dictate, she says.
”This is America’s ‘other’ war. It is the Chinese
government that is putting the money back into their country, into their
military. And it’s a military that they are not even going to have to use,
because they already will have taken over us financially in the next 10 years
They’re going to take us over without even firing a missile,” Schuldt says. Schuldt is not
about to just let her company bleed to death.
SAM was formed last October by some Illinois manufacturers who wanted to address
the problem of American companies and jobs being lost to China. Schuldt
and Skoff contacted the Illinois SAM chapter and
discovered it already has grown to more than 500 members. Soon, they hope a SAM
chapter will be formed in every state. As they launch the Wisconsin chapter, Schuldt
and Skoff are busy recruiting members and lobbying
for legislative support for their mission. SAM members believe that unless the
Chinese government begins to better enforce penalties for the theft of American
patents and intellectual properties, China should be revoked from the World
Furthermore, the United States should rescind China’s status as a “most favored nation”
trading partner unless China enforces those penalties with more
vigilance, SAM members contend. Additionally, SAM members say the playing field
should be leveled for trading between the United States and China. With the most favored nation
designation, Chinese companies pay no tariffs for products they export to the United States. However, American companies must
pay tariffs and many other penalties to export products to China.
SAM members know they may be outgunned in pushing for such reforms. After all,
it was America’s largest corporations that fought
for increased trading with China. Those companies were enamored with
the notions of selling products to China’s 1.2 billion population
and employing China’s cheap labor force. In many ways,
the issue is evolving into a civil war between America’s largest corporations, which have
supported more commercial trade to China, and America’s small businesses, which are
closing up shops because they can’t compete with such cheap labor and lax
”The General Electrics, the Motorolas .... To go and change their minds that
this bad for us. ... I don’t think that’s going to work,” Schuldt says. “American greed is American greed. And these
large corporations, they don’t care. And to some extent, you don’t necessarily
blame them. The rest of us, the smaller manufacturers, we need to represent
ourselves. We need to tell what’s going on in our businesses and what the big
corporations are doing,” Schuldt says.
”I’m not against free trade. I’m against unfair trade. I believe that the stuff
coming in from China should at least be taxed to the
minimum standards of living in the United States,” Schuldt
”The impact is on everyone here. For so long now, we’ve been hearing that the
only thing keeping America from going into recession is that
the consumers are still spending,” Skoff says. “Well,
guess what? The consumers are stopping their spending now. Their confidence is down.
People are no longer maxing out their credit cards, or they’re maxed out, and
they’re just not buying those things they used to buy.”
slitting their own throats’
Manufacturer says outsourcing isn’t the answer
Jerald Skoff, president of Badger Metal Tech, has
seen his firm’s potential client list of American diecasting
companies dwindle from more than 1,200 to fewer than 300 in a few short years.
Correspondingly, his Menomonee Falls metal surface treating company’s revenues shrunk 15%
in 2001, another 25% in 2002 and he projects another significant drop in 2003.
To Skoff’s way of thinking, American manufacturers
who are outsourcing their production to China, taking advantage of cheap labor
and lax environmental standards, may benefit in the short term, but they
ultimately are “slitting their own throats.”
The following are excerpts from an interview of Skoff
by Small Business Times executive editor Steve Jagler.
SBT: From a Wisconsin manufacturer’s point of view, what is happening with China, and how is it playing out in your
Skoff: The dies are going over to China to be made, because they’re less
expensive. When that happens, they (American companies) no longer need the tool
shop here to make the dies. In China, the labor cost for a worker is a
dollar a day. We can’t pay a guy a dollar a day and expect him to live here.
Once that tool goes over there to China, contrary to what people think,
instead of making one tool, they make a number of tools. They don’t tell you
they’ve made a number of tools, they just copy it. It isn’t long before they
cut that tool shop out. Pretty soon, they’re just passing over that guy and
going right to the guy who uses the tool. It then progresses. The end user
says, “Great, I’m buying my tool from the Chinese company cheaper.” And then he
says, “Can you make these parts for me?” A lot of times then, they just move
the plants to China. In order to do that, they have to
make the technology transfer. They can’t set up a plant in there, whether
they’re making Bayer aspirin, electric motors or gasoline engines, without
sharing their technology. So, you not only share your technology with them, but
you lose the business. They go right to market with the product. That’s what
happened to New Balance shoes.
SBT: How bad is the product piracy problem in China?
Skoff: What happens is the manufacturing job
at the American tool shop is lost. The Chinese suddenly cut out the (American)
manufacturer. It’s the profit mongers of the corporations that start this,
because they want to make more profit and make it for less money – at the cost
of the worker here in the United States. The tool shop is closed, and you
then have the high unemployment.
SBT: Then a Chinese company can take that American technology and
manufacturing process, even put the American company’s brand name on it, and
sell it more cheaply, right?
Skoff: There’s a company in Milwaukee (Briggs & Stratton Corp.) that
makes engines, and they know for a fact that at least three engines are being
reproduced over there that are counterfeited. One even has their logo on it.
That’s a fact. There’s another company. It’s Crain Tools. They’re a customer of
ours. They sent a carpet-cutting tool over to China, with good intentions. The parts
came in. The first couple loads were real nice. They looked good. Then they got
a shipment, and they were sorting through it, and there wasn’t a Crain logo.
There was a Chinese logo in place of the Crain logo. It wasn’t long before the
Chinese flooded the market with these carpet-cutting tools, and it hurt Crain.
There’s no rule of law over there. It’s a communist country.
SBT: On the issue of patents, the Chinese government has policies and
laws against patent violations. Are they not enforced?
Skoff: The violators are challenged by our
attorneys. But when you’re dealing with a communist government that doesn’t
respect their own citizens, you really are beating your head against the wall,
because they’re not going to listen to the case. There’s no way to stop them.
And it’s so rampant, that the government over there can’t control it. Microsoft
has thousands of copies that are pirated all the time over there. Cummins
actually found its logo on engines that weren’t made in the United States, and I’ve heard rumors that there’s
a whole car being put together over there. And the thing is, it’s
good stuff. They’ve got newer technology than our poor shops have over here.
So, not only can the Chinese companies compete on a price level, but on a
SBT: What’s the impact in Wisconsin?
Skoff: The impact in Wisconsin is you’ve got companies like Zuelzke Tool & Engineering Co. in Milwaukee ....
gone. They’re closed. You’ve got Badger Pattern Works Inc. down in New Berlin. They’re out of business. They closed.
They just couldn’t compete. There’s a number of other
businesses that are going that way, that are hurting. If they’re competing
overseas, then they’re getting killed. In our company, we’re hearing from our
customers over and over and over that business isn’t good, that they don’t have
anything to send us. I say, “Foreign competition?” And they say, “Ya, China’s killing us. Everything’s going to China.”
If we keep going down like this, we’re going to be one of the dominoes that falls over.
SBT: Has China’s entry into the World Trade
Organization accelerated China’s dominance over American
Skoff: The World Trade Organization has
increased the amount of business over there. As our trade deficit gets larger and
larger, our country gets weaker and weaker. The trade ratio between China and United States is the highest of any country we do
trading with, including Japan. It’s growing exponentially.
SBT: What about the United States granting China the most favored nation status,
under the Clinton administration? Has that accelerated this problem as well?
Skoff: That has definitely done it. If you
don’t believe me, have somebody pick up some objects in their home and try to
find something that’s made in the United States.
SBT: So, the United States is losing manufacturing and
manufacturing jobs as a component of its gross domestic product?
Skoff: Manufacturing is the backbone of the
American economy. People think America went through its industrial
revolution, and it’s now time for others to do that job. I’ve been told that
Americans need to be retrained in high-technology jobs. Who are we kidding? Why
will you need high-technology careers if no one’s working here to buy that
technology? Even your job is in jeopardy. If you have no companies here, who’s
going to read your newspaper? It will trickle down all the way to the level
where we’ll become a third-world country and dependent on others for
manufacturing. Ya, we’ll have a service company. Great. But we’ll service the people over in China.
SBT: In a worst-case scenario, could this problem have an impact on
national defense, on America’s ability to defend itself?
Skoff: It already has. Oshkosh Truck gets a
lot of its parts for its trucks from China, and it was not able to meet an
American Defense Department deadline because of the import it had to make on
the parts. Our national defense is in jeopardy, because when you get to the
point where you have no manufacturing, and someone declares war on you, and the
other country, if it be China or wherever, is making your
weapons, that’s kind of like asking the Indians if you can buy their arrows to
shoot them with. It doesn’t work that way.
SBT: Former Gov. Tommy Thompson went on a couple of trade missions to China with the notion of advocating for
businesses in Wisconsin. Was that mission misguided? Was
Skoff: That wasn’t intentional, but I think it
was misguided and naïve. When you look at it on the outside, you’ve got 1.2
billion people over there to market to. But you’re not marketing to anybody
over there. And the Chinese people are really getting treated unfairly too. I
feel sorry for the people over there. The people are in terrible economic
conditions over there. And if I were talking like I am to you in China, and you came to visit me again, I
wouldn’t be here to visit with you again. The Chinese people are not at fault.
They would like to end this too and get some fair wages.
SBT: Relative to the US trading relationship with Japan, this is not a level playing field
with China, is it?
Skoff: The democracy and the equal market and
the number of people, not 1.2 billion, eventually raised their standard in Japan, and now they’re right back even
with us again. Japan has actually moved some factories
over here to the United States. China isn’t going to do that. You’re not
going to see China building plants in the United States to ship products back to be sold in
China. Sorry. You’re not going to see that, ever.
SBT: We’ve laid out the problem. What’s the solution?
Skoff: I don’t have a solution. That’s why
we’ve formed SAM (Save American Manufacturing)
SAM: Save American Manufacturing-Wisconsin Chapter
Mission:”To build public and government
awareness of the devastating effects the increasing economic trade deficit with
China has had on US businesses and to create solutions that will reestablish
the United States as the manufacturing leader and promote reinvestment in the
American labor force”
Goal: To form a grassroots organization for the average American worker
and small-business owner to speak up and be heard in Washington.
Founding organization: SAM was formed in Illinois in 2002 and has grown to more than
500 members. Wisconsin is the second state to open a SAM
chapter. The organization intends to open chapters in all 50 states.
Web site: http://wombat.fp.execpc.com (temporary). The group’s eventual Web
site, www.samnow.org, is under construction.
Contact: Wisconsin SAM chairwoman Catherine Schuldt, owner of Butler Wire & Metal Products Inc., Menomonee Falls, 262-252-3355.
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to Congress (pdf)
By Steve Jagler, of SBT
March 7, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee
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