OK, be honest. How often to you purchase a product and check to see if it's made in the United States? For those of us who make a living from U.S. manufacturing, I seriously think it's something we should consider.

We recently purchased some outdoor patio furniture and we made an extra effort to ensure that it was manufactured and painted in the United States. If we aren't willing to support U.S. manufacturers when making purchases, why should we expect others to support us?

If you think this isn't an issue, then you aren't following the flight of American manufacturing to foreign countries. We're kind of between a rock and a hard place right now. It's a vicious cycle. Americans want to purchase goods at discount store prices, yet they also want to maintain a high standard of living. The combination continues to drive manufacturing from our shores because goods can be produced often at far reduced costs in other countries than they can be produced here.

To get an idea of the extent of the problem, just click on www.cnn.com/lou. CNN's Lou Dobbs has been chronicling the exodus of American jobs in his "Exporting America" series for some time. He has been keeping a running list of the names of the U.S. companies CNN has confirmed have either moved operations overseas or have chosen to employ cheap overseas labor. As of July 21, the list totaled nearly 900 companies.

While these are not all manufacturing companies, manufacturing has been hit particularly hard. In the six recessions before the most recent one, manufacturing output typically grew by 14% during the first 18 months of recovery. From the end of the 2001 recession through the first half of last year, manufacturing output edged up just 1%. So while the rest of the economy added one million jobs since June of 2000, the manufacturing sector lost three million jobs. And the situation hasn't changed much since last year.

So where does it leave us? How do we compete? How do we keep American manufacturing a viable option?

I think we, as members of the American manufacturing community, need to recommit ourselves. First, we need to slow down. Too many people are doing too many things because staffs have been cut drastically. It may be saving some money in the short term, but in the long term we haven't invested anything because a person cannot be expected to maintain an exhausting pace for too long.

We need to rededicate ourselves to educating employees, giving them the best tools to produce the best products, and, most importantly, we need to be willing to BUY those products instead of going for the least expensive item we can find. Don't forget the old saying, "You get what you pay for." It still often holds true. This is something we all need to be talking about and realize the serious impact it could have on our livelihoods.

Here's one place you can begin: If you are involved in powder coating products or are considering converting or adding it to your existing coating operations, be sure you attend Powder Coating 2004, coming up from September 21 to 23 at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, NC. This is the perfect place to step back, regroup and work toward a better 2005.

We want you to return to your plant with a renewed enthusiasm. It has to start somewhere. Networking with your peers and discovering what is new and exciting about a technology can help put us back on the right track. American manufacturing needs that right now.

Sure, we all know it's a global society now, but if we don't continue to manufacture products in the United States, we'll all be looking for work before long.

Make an investment in your future. Work hard, keep up with new technologies, buy American-manufactured products when you can, and stay employed. Perhaps we can chat more about this in Charlotte at Powder Coating 2004! I hope so!