Made in USA: Growing Panes for a High-Tech Window Company

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SageGlass was bought by a French company but its manufacturing remains in the United States. Operations director David Pender talks about the pros and cons of this arrangement.

SageGlass invented dynamic glass—“tint on demand” windows that use special coatings and low voltages of electricity to filter out varying degrees of light. The small company started in 1989 in New York, but eventually moved to Faribault, Minnesota, 50 miles south of Minneapolis, because the area was developing a reputation for its innovation in window manufacturing.

Then in 2012, French building materials manufacturer Saint-Gobain acquired SageGlass. Although the unmet demand for dynamic glass was mainly in Europe, Saint-Gobain chose to keep production in Minnesota, build a new plant there, and convert the old plant to a research and development facility. The new facility can coat panes of glass that are more than twice the size of the old ones.

David Pender, director of operations at SageGlass (who previously spent 11 years in Germany working for Saint Gobain), talked about the challenges and advantages of keeping SageGlass’s manufacturing and R&D in the United States:

Challenge: Europe has the most growth potential, but our manufacturing facility is in the U.S.

Western Europe is a little further along than the U.S. in building codes. What’s considered extremely exotic here … is considered almost normal in Europe. Getting the supply chain right to be able to produce everything from what’s acceptable in the U.S. to what’s expected in Europe poses a certain amount of challenge. We’ve got to be sourcing some things from Europe, to make the products here and then shift them back to Europe. That doesn’t make too much sense at the moment, but we are trying to grow this market worldwide. Europe is growing very, very quickly because the Saint-Gobain name in Europe is a big plus.

Advantage: The highest demand for the product is still in the U.S.

Overall, we’re on a three to four times year-over-year expansion. So this year we’ll produce three to four times what we did in 2016. Which is a phenomenal growth rate, and that’s set to continue as we grow in the Europe, in the U.S. and the Middle East. We just got our first really big job in China. In the future, this facility will get to capacity and just produce in North America, and there will probably be another facility doing something similar in Europe—and who knows how that will do going forward.

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Europeans want U.S. to Ditch “Buy American” Rules

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Obama keeps pushing a Trans Atlantic trade deal with Europe, despite the fact that other trade deals have helped make the trade deficit worse.

One of the goals for Europeans is to get rid of Buy American rules in the U.S.

In particular, the [European Union] wants to pry open so-called public procurement markets and scrap “Buy American” clauses that restrict the ability of European companies to sell goods and services to states and cities.

The U.S. public strongly believes their taxpayer dollars should be spent procuring from U.S. companies and workers.  A majority in Congress votes for Buy American rules in infrastructure and other bills.  Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) have been leading the efforts recently.  How can a fiscal stimulus have an impact if we buy foreign goods with taxpayer money?  That’s one difference between the FDR stimulus of the Great Depression and the smaller Obama stimulus of the Great Recession… offshore leakage of the government spending.

It’s not surprising that Europe wants to replace U.S. businesses and workers in government contracts.  The U.S. federal government is the biggest consumer in the world… and when you add in the state and local governments, it’s really big.  From the U.S. side there is simply no way we’d come away with a net benefit with theoretical market access by our so-called “U.S.” multinationals (who don’t really consider themselves U.S. anymore) to other smaller government procurement markets.  It simply doesn’t ever work that way.

I’m not sure where the Obama Administration is coming from on this.  The biggest source of jobs and growth will come from reducing the trade deficit.  We had a record $735B goods trade deficit last year, including a $300B goods deficit with China.  Trade deals simply don’t help the trade deficit, usually make things worse, and tie our hands for fixing the problem.

 

Source: http://www.tradereform.org/2013/03/europeans-want-u-s-to-ditch-buy-american-rules/

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