Has Incredible Potential
Boyé Lafayette De Mente
At this time the Made-in-America movement that recently appeared in the U.S. is not much more than a media curiosity, but it has the potential of providing employment for millions of Americans and turning the American economy around in the same way that tiny postwar Japan became the world’s second largest economy in less than 25 years.
The secret of Japan’s incredible accomplishment is simple. Defeat in World War II and the destruction of most of its large-scale industry left over 50 percent of the adult population—men and women—unemployed.
Between 1947 and 1950 over a million of these out-of-work men and women established small enterprises, the majority of which had from two to five employees. Some of those in the manufacturing sector established relationships with larger firms that had domestic distribution and retail channels but they were primarily interested in exporting, especially to the U.S., because Japan did not have a consumer market.
At first the only choice this huge number of would-be exporters had was to depend on making contact with Western importers who began flocking to Japan in 1952 when the American military occupation of Japan ended. But only a small percentage of these new companies were able to establish successful export relationships.
And then another remarkable event occurred. Ray A. Woodside, one of my alumnae brothers from The American Institute for Foreign Trade in Glendale, Arizona [now Thunderbird School of Global Management] founded a monthly subscription-based trade journal in Tokyo named The IMPORTER—Asian Products for Western Markets that was aimed at American importers, huge retail chains like Sears, and their European counterparts. I became editor of the new publication.
With the very first issues of The IMPORTER hundreds of Japan’s new start-up companies began placing ads in the magazine. One of our early advertisers was a small firm called Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo K.K. [Tokyo Communications Industrial Co., Inc.], which took a one-sixth of a page ad on a three-month contract—the smallest ad and the shortest contract available.
The ad featured a tiny transistor radio with the brand name Sony. It got the small company an importer-distributor in both the U.S. and Canada—Delmonico in New York and General Distributors in Canada. Five years later Tokyo Tsushin changed its name to Sony, Inc.
Hundreds of other tiny Japanese companies that are now major enterprises also got their start by advertising in The IMPORTER, building up an export industry the likes of which had never before been seen—an opportunity that we soon extended to South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
It was not Japan’s huge prewar zaibatsu firms that turned Japan into an economic powerhouse and made it the second largest economy in the world. It was the astounding accomplishment of hundreds of thousands of previously unemployed people who founded their own companies.
The concept is simple, and it works. The question is whether or not Americans have enough common sense and courage to turn the Made-in-America movement into a national phenomenon.
Federal, state and city governments should contribute to this movement by donating and/or subsidizing unused office and factory space and the initial equipment needed by the entrepreneurs if they cannot afford it themselves. Larger companies should offer to distribute the products and promote the services of these new enterprises.