Global shakiness may mean local opportunity

MANSFIELD­ –  Since the end of World War II, the United States has kept world shipping lanes safe and allowed foreign companies to compete for domestic business in hopes of encouraging peace and prosperity.

But “that model is fracturing,” said Andrew R. Thomas, associate professor of marketing and international business at the University of Akron, in a Friday speech to Richland County business leaders at a Regional Manufacturing Coalition event.

Americans have gradually become displeased with its high cost and low return on investment, leading many to look more inward, Thomas said.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump appeals to a large group of people who believe the U.S. should close its borders and focus inward, and if he is elected, it’s clear where U.S. policy will go. If Democrat Hillary Clinton is elected president, the shift will slow. But “it doesn’t stop the trend,” Thomas said.

“If we disengage … it doesn’t really impact us. The rest of the world, however, is freaked out,” fearing that the U.S. will increase tariffs and taxes on incoming goods, and concerned that other nations will have to bolster their military defenses to fend off traditional enemies, he said.

Thomas and Robert Schmidt, growth and innovation staffers for the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network in Cleveland, gave their take on trends that could affect trade and sales.

Both speakers see opportunities for manufacturers who look for opportunities in global and domestic trends, and “innovate” to provide products that will be in heavier demand.

Thomas said he’s skeptical of dire warnings about the future. “I’m bullish about the U.S. economy,” he said.

The U.S. economy has grown for 15 consecutive decades, since 1870. That’s considerably longer than Great Britain, which had five decades, Japan with four, and China with two, he said.

Only about 15 percent of the U.S. economy is tied to international trade, while 70 percent is tied to consumer spending.

“That tells us that about 15 percent of all global economy on the planet is tied to the U.S. consumer,” Thomas said.

That’s why global recessions are tied to decisions by American consumers to stop or slow their spending, he said.

“You cannot overestimate the importance of the size of the U.S. economy,” Thomas said.

One opportunity for local manufacturers is in the area of global military equipment. “There will be wars and rumors of wars, going forward,” Thomas said.

Local manufacturers also were advised to pay close attention to age demographics, to find products needed by baby boomers as they retire and millennials as they begin to spend more heavily.

Richland County has 55 manufacturing firms which has sales of $3 million of more, the speakers noted.

lmartz@gannett.com
419-521-7229
Twitter: @MNJmartz

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