Posted 2/24/2014 12:00 am
Arkansas Business, like every other news organization, is a manufacturer. Not just in the sense that we have a thing that we mail to subscribers every week, but in the fact that we take raw materials — data, information, interviews, documents — and create from them something that is more valuable than the sum of the parts.
So when we look at manufacturing in our state, as we do in several stories this week, we have a fellow feeling, a special appreciation for other Arkansans who are adding value, who are making things. Especially because manufacturing in Arkansas has been on the ropes for a long time and isn’t recovering the way we’d like to see.
And we were happy when Wal-Mart, Arkansas’ biggest buyer of manufactured stuff, announced that it would do what it can to encourage the making of more stuff in the U.S.A. As this week’s story makes clear, Wal-Mart’s commitment is not huge, and even Wal-Mart cannot change global trends on its own.
But the economic forces that sent manufacturing out of the U.S. for decades have now started to change. Foreign labor costs are rising — a very good thing, in that it means a developing middle class that can support its own manufacturing industries. Transportation costs are also rising, and unpredictably so.
But what American manufacturers need most — and this is an area in which Wal-Mart can certainly help — is a reasonable expectation of having a market for their goods if they make new investments. A multiyear commitment from Wal-Mart has allowed Hanna’s Candle Co. of Fayetteville to invest and hire. A similar commitment allowed Redman & Associates to invest and begin hiring workers to build battery-powered riding toys in Rogers.
Charles Fishman, the Wal-Mart observer who wrote “The Wal-Mart Effect,” is correct when he says that the price and quality still have to be right. “Made in USA” is not enough. But it’s certainly worth a try.