A Visit to the Movies, American Made

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I want to let you know about a movie that I decided to see the other day. I drove to nearby Baltimore’s historic Charles Theatre to see American Made Movie, which has just concluded a 32-city, 32-day tour.  I must admit that I don’t go out to the movies much anymore. Perhaps it’s because of the comfort my oversized HDTV in my own living room offers, or the rising cost of the movie experience.  Maybe it is the seemingly increasing regurgitation of the same ideas, with TV shows begetting movies and sequels of sequels. For that matter, it could just be that I’m getting older (hello, mid-40s!) and like to stay home more.  At any rate, I’m glad I ventured out to see this movie.

American_Made_MovieThe film tells the story of manufacturing in America and the fight for survival which companies in the US, communities, entrepreneurs, and ultimately families face in light of developments such as the rise of offshore low-cost manufacturing. The movie also looks at the role that these actors can play, along with the consumer, in helping American manufacturing to grow and prosper.

As Ken Voytek noted in a recent blog, “Historically, manufacturing has been a key driver of economic growth after a recession and thus it is important to see it return to a long-term sustainable growth trajectory.”  These words seem like they could be shown as a preface to this film. The movie indeed demonstrates the importance of manufacturing to America. It really connected with me on a personal level, as it framed the story of American manufacturing in places that I have ties to, including Detroit, where I lived in the late 1990s; Cromwell, CT, where my father worked in the mid 90s; and Gwinnett County, GA — part of metro Atlanta, where I was born and raised.

In Detroit, which recently filed for bankruptcy, the film notes the city’s troubles that have occurred as manufacturing jobs have ebbed. When I Iived there between 1996-2000, I was struck by the once-impressive architecture and infrastructure that had begun to crumble. During my time there for instance, Tigers Stadium — which had opened in 1912 five days after the Titanic sank, yet remained a fantastic place to watch a baseball game near the end of the 20th Century — held its final Detroit Tigers game. The J.L. Hudson Building — built in in 1911 — was demolished, and in the process, rubble was accidentally strewn onto the Detroit People Mover, causing it to shut down until the following year. It was evident in the late 90s that Detriot was clearly facing a tough road ahead, yet conditions seem to have worsened since. In fact, the film notes that Detroit has lost about half of its manufacturing jobs just in the last decade. Perhaps the most incredible stat about Detroit is that it is the only city in North American that went from a population of more than two million to less than one million during the 20th Century.

In Cromwell, the movie tells the story of Merrie Buchsbaum, an entrepreneur, founder, and owner of Merrily Made, a handmade polymer jewelry and pen company that counts the Smithsonian Institution among its clients. Merrie attended the Baltimore screening and spoke afterwards about the need for consumers to consider the full ramifications of their purchasing decisions. I thought about Mark Schmit’s May blog in which he noted the Consumer Reports finding that 78% of U.S. consumers prefer American-made products over their foreign-made counterparts. American Made Movie makes the point that, for the consumer, the cheapest product doesn’t necessarily mean the best value when quality is factored in. The film also reminds us that when choosing which product to buy, one should also consider the impact on the community where that product is made. In doing the “calculus,” we’re to take the manufacturer of the product, its employees, and their families into account. Plus, there is a further “multiplier effect” to figure in. When you also consider that every $1 spent in final sales of manufactured products supports $1.40 in output from other sectors of the economy, the importance of purchasing an American-made product become even more apparent.

In Gwinnett County — home of Dacula High School, where filmmakers Nathaniel Thomas McGill and Vincent Vittorio graduated — the film features community leaders talking about a comprehensive community and economic development plan that has been developed and enacted via Partnership Gwinnet. As a result of taking a proactive approach to growing their manufacturing base, the county has expanded or relocated over 200 companies and added over 9,400 jobs in Gwinnett.

I’m also happy to report that at least two firms featured in the film are MEP clients. Athletic shoemaker New Balance, which is headquartered in Brighton, Massachusetts — with production facilities in the Bay State as well as Maine — has worked with Mass MEP and Maine MEP on lean manufacturing, workplace communication, and process documentation. Viking Range, which makes industrial-grade consumer appliances and is based in Greenwood, Mississippi, has been involved in numerous projects with Innovate Mississippi  (the state’s MEP affiliate), including finite element analysis (a numerical method to analyze a material or object and find how applied stresses will affect the material or design).

I credit the filmmakers for taking an apolitical tone to the film when discussing topics that could certainly become political, and often do. Meanwhile, while the movie tour for American Made Movie has ended (the final stop took place August 5th in my original hometown of Atlanta), the film will hit theatres for general release in August 30. If what I’ve written has piqued your curiosity, then perhaps you might check it out.

Do you have a comment or a thought about American Made Movie, or about the topics that it examines? If so, please share them here.

About Author

Ben Vickery

Ben Vickery is Senior Technical Advisor with NIST MEP, and works in its Partnership and Program Development Office. Ben is leading NIST MEP’s efforts to create regional Technology Collaboratives, which serve to develop and sustain regional innovation ecosystems that are positioned and prepared to identify, assess, and adopt technologies resulting from federal R&D investments.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll try to find it and watch it. IMDB says that it is “coming soon” to theaters on Aug. 30.

    I found one thing really interesting as a follower of two separate NIST blogs (MEP & Baldrige). Both bring up the the Detroit case study and what’s to be done. Others might find it interesting to go to http://www.nist.gov/baldrige/, select BLOGRIDGE then select “Could Baldrige Help Detroit?”

    Principle Consultant
    ODU Business Gateway (Va. MEP in Hampton Roads)
    Norfolk, Va.

    • Steve,
      Thanks for making the connection to Christine’s excellent blog. I think she has a very interesting and worthwhile idea in the application of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence to the city. And, while my four years in Detroit was quite a short stay compared to that of Christine’s grandmother, there are some echoes of her poignant memories with my experiences in the Motor City as well.

  2. Adam,
    Here’s an update…According to an August 12 posting on the American Made Movie Facebook page, the film will premiere August 30th in Chicago, Illinois and Lawrenceville, Georgia (in Metro Atlanta) before opening in New York and Los Angeles among other cities beginning on September 6th.

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