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Groups promote locally made products to keep Americans working

The American economy has seen better days, and perhaps no one knows better than metro Detroiters just how tough the job market is right now. As we’re fighting to put our neighbors back to work, it’s worth asking — how much does that label boasting “American Made” really matter?

If you ask Jhan Dolphin, he’ll tell you that label matters quite a bit. As the head of J Robert Marketing and Public Relations in Illinois, Dolphin said he has many clients who run their businesses in the United States, and he advises them to flaunt that fact as much as possible.

“You know, there was a time when we would raise that flag high that ‘We’re an American company with American quality.’ Then there was a time when we stopped doing that because we thought, not only does it not help, we thought it would hurt us. People would think they’re going to pay too much for it,” said Dolphin.

Dolphin, along with his colleague and fellow public relations agent Dave Gleason, founded Forge Ahead USA, a campaign aimed at promoting U.S. manufacturing companies with prominent and creative labeling.  The goal, he said, is to get more consumers to make an effort to buy American-made products whenever possible.

“A lot of our clients are American manufacturers, but they’re bogged down with day-to-day operations. Now that attention is being given to that, and consumers are becoming enlightened and choosing to buy American, we want to get the word out about who they are,” he said.

Forge Ahead USA has only been operating for about six months, but it’s already making waves with American companies and consumers alike. The campaign will host several promotional events throughout the year, said Dolphin, in order to increase awareness of manufacturers that make products Americans need right in their own backyard.

In fact, just last week Forge Ahead USA teamed up with Team Prefix of Auburn Hills to reveal a custom Dodge Viper SRT-10, which will compete in this year’s One Lap of America Race May 4-11. During the event, known to some as the historic Cannonball Run, 65 teams will tour the country to race on professional tracks while also driving to each destination, traveling more than 4,000 miles from start to finish. The Forge Ahead USA car will not only look to come out on top on the racetrack, but it will also spread the campaign’s message as it cruises along the nation’s highways.

“With the One Lap of America race, we want to bring attention to this cause. We need to make sure they’re in the spotlight and people are hearing about what they’re doing for their employees and what they’re doing for their local communities,” said Dolphin, who said that each dollar spent on U.S.-made products helps to put Americans back to work.

“It’s not a political statement and it’s not that we’re not in a global economy, but we have to realize we can make a difference. No government stimulus package is going to solve things for us. We have to work as a team and say, ‘I can make a difference.’ The more people we can get to do that, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”

West Bloomfield resident Emma Zerkel knows how much of a difference buying American can make. She and her husband, Michael, started their online store, AllUSAClothing.com, more than six years ago to continue their family’s 40-year tradition of selling American-made clothing. It’s a concept that Zerkel says she, her husband and their growing customer base can all feel good about.

“When the UAW started really suffering because of cuts in American manufacturing, we knew we had to diversify and step up and say, ‘What really matters is American manufacturing.’ We can’t continue to keep sending everything overseas,” said Zerkel.

She said customers visit the website to support American workers, but also to find better-quality products or even environmentally conscious clothing.

“We’ve have customers say that literally the exact same item made overseas isn’t as good as the one made here,” she said.

AllUSAClothing.com ships the bulk of its merchandise from its Sylvan Lake warehouse to online shoppers in Pennsylvania, New York, California and Michigan. Zerkel said their relatively modest following is plenty, since the store has been growing since its inception. Just last year, the couple was able to hire four more employees to keep up with orders.

“I do a lot of reading about the fact that more and more people are starting to look for and care about the ‘Made in USA’ label. I think it’s important for us to promote that and to stop playing up that the cost of American-made is high. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. And the other thing we have to play up is that the quality is just better when it’s made in the U.S.”

The mission of AllUSAClothing.com and Forge Ahead USA is just what many local chambers of commerce have sought to promote for years. Wayne Oehmke, president of the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that when residents buy local products, eat at nearby restaurants and support neighborhood businesses, they can see exactly where their dollars are going — and that benefits everyone.

“Their roots are here and their families are here and there’s an instant return on investment for the purchase because they live right here,” said Oehmke. “They’re not sending the money just anywhere.”