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"American Made Movie" touts USA brand appeal

3:46 AM, Jul 5, 2013   |    comments
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If you proudly buy locally grown vegetables for your stew, why not buy a U.S.-made slow cooker to cook them in?

You should, say Vincent Vittorio and Nathaniel Thomas McGill. And that idea is the core of the pair's new documentary, American Made Movie. It's a by-now-familiar film about the decline of American manufacturing and its impact on communities - but with a twist.

Instead of relying on trade barriers to protect manufacturing jobs, the film argues that Americans can tap into the same pride of place and craftsmanship farmers have used to fuel the movement toward locally-grown food. Just as people will pay an extra $1 a pound for organic strawberries, Vittorio and McGill say the path to healthier U.S. manufacturing runs through persuading people to buy a $35 U.S.-made slow cooker even when a $25 import is available.

"Protectionism can be Republican or Democratic, and we weren't out to make that kind of film,'' Vittorio said. "Politics is always uncertain, but the role consumers play in the economy never changes.''

In a sense, the film, whose promotional tour begins Friday in suburban Atlanta, proposes a nationwide version of support-small-business campaigns that cities have run for years.

The filmmakers' idea has elements of everything from American Express' Small Business Saturdays campaign to the "Keep Austin Weird" slogan of the Austin Independent Business Alliance, which urges Texans to patronize more-creative local versions of bookstores, ice cream shops and other businesses that compete with chains.

"If you look at the local food movement and the localized-buying trend that was already moving up, we got to thinking about 'Made in the USA' campaigns, which were sort of an early version of that same idea,'' McGill said. "We thought about, what solution is there that a sixth-grader could understand? And it came down to good old supply and demand.''

The selling of American Made Movie, which opens Aug. 30 in New York and Los Angeles, is as unconventional as its thesis.

Instead of star-studded soirees, the filmmakers, whose last film together was a documentary history of the federal income tax, called An Inconvenient Tax, are hitting the road Friday for a 32-city, 32-day bus tour.

Many stops will be at factories highlighted in the movie. These factories have found ways to counteract or survive imported competition. They range from the Greenwood, Miss., plant where Viking Range makes ranges that can cost five figures, to the Connecticut studio of Merrie Buchsbaum, who reclaimed part of a contract she had lost to sell $15 to $30 American-flag jewelry through gift shops at the Smithsonian.

"Whoever thought of it, I think I'll kill them,'' McGill said. "32 cities in 32 days is quite a feat.''

Research suggests that small-business and buy-local campaigns do work.

In a survey of almost 2,400 small businesses, sales grew almost twice as fast last year for small businesses in communities with buy-local campaigns, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance reported in February. Buy-local communities saw small business grow 8.6% on average, compared with 3.4% for other communities, the survey said.

The key to making that idea scale is to get people to be conscious of where the products they buy come from - even if they don't have U.S. brands, Vittorio said.

A BMW made in South Carolina or an Alabama-made Hyundai can create or save U.S. manufacturing jobs, Vittorio said. McGill just bought a Chinese-branded Hisense TV after learning the company that makes it has its U.S. headquarters near his suburban Atlanta home, he said.

Consumers will respond to American goods, which aren't as pricey as many think, argued Mark Andol, who appears in the film.

Andol's Elma, N.Y.-based General Welding & Fabricating has been buffeted by cheap Chinese competition, shrinking to 50 workers from 70 since 2007. But in 2010, he opened the Made in America Store, a shop he says sells 5,000 different U.S.-made goods. From $500,000 in first-year sales, he thinks he may hit $2 million this year. Andol opened a second shop near Niagara Falls this spring, and his new online store bills itself as "the real stimulus package.''

"I teach people, 'You build with your dollars,' '' Andol said. "I support 350 U.S. manufacturers. I'm rebuilding the American dream.''

Tim Mullaney, USA TODAY

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