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Bring Manufacturing Back!

By Eric Elgin

May 20, 2020

I’m writing this during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when our economy, in the interest of preventing the spread of the outbreak, is in a state of suspended animation. Thankfully, most if not all of us in the corrugated and paperboard industries are considered to be part of the essential infrastructure feeding our supply chains for critical food, pharmaceutical, and medical stocks. We are fortunate to still be working, albeit with heightened sanitation and preventive measures in place.

One of the messages I’ve heard through all the noise of the nonstop reporting is how we have jeopardized our ability to fight this pandemic by our overreliance on foreign suppliers—in this case, pharmaceutical suppliers overseas. President Donald Trump, in one of the press briefings for his Coronavirus Task Force, said that the coronavirus crisis has taught our country that “we can never again be dependent on a foreign country for our vital supplies.” The president, in this case, was referring to supplies of critical strategic materials. However, if we honestly consider this lesson, we can see how we in North America have become “addicted”—if I can use that term—to a ready supply of cheap imported nondurable goods, most of which are readily available through the many online e-commerce platforms that we have become used to using every day in our homes and businesses.

In saying all this, I think that a silver lining of the coronavirus crisis could very well be a movement of key strategic manufacturing and material sourcing back to North American shores. Back in 2003, Jay Wertheimer, president of Wertheimer Box in Chicago, was Chair of AICC. During his year as Chair, Wertheimer championed a theme for AICC and our industry: “Make it in America!” This battle cry was in response to what we were seeing then as the mass exodus of manufacturing to lower-cost manufacturing environments in Latin America and Asia. Our government affairs efforts were reborn in those days, when we began our annual Washington Fly-In to ask AICC members to come to Washington, D.C., to plead with their representatives in Congress to repair this exodus by embracing a pro-manufacturing economy that encourages manufacturers to remain and do business on our shores. Our success has been mixed at best, and only in recent years have tax and regulatory policies begun to favor the manufacturing sector again. Our box business is dependent on a robust manufacturing base, so we have a vital interest in this message.

I do not know what situation we will be in by the time this column arrives in your hands, but let us hope that once this COVID-19 crisis is behind us, we can soberly assess the importance of a strong, sustainable, and North American manufacturing economy and say, “Bring manufacturing back!”

PortraitEric Elgin is owner of Oklahoma Interpak and Chair of AICC’s Government Affairs subcommittee. He can be reached at 918-687-1681 or