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24-Hours of (Trying to) 'Buy American'

Made in America with Nicole Lapin
Made in America with Nicole Lapin

I’ve spent the past few weeks reporting on American manufacturing – the good, the bad, and the ugly—for my “Made in America” series on CNBC’s “Worldwide Exchange.” I’ve looked at “Made in USA” from all angles: how does it help the economy and job growth? How does it hurt the economy and innovation? What can the government be doing to support US businesses?

I’ve talked to CEOs from iconic American institutions like Subway and WD-40. I’ve also talked to people in Washington, from the Small Business Association to the Export-Import Bank of the United States. Economists, academics, and best-selling authors have offered me their two-cents, too.

All of this “Made in America” talk got me thinking: is living solely on American goods even possible anymore? How much of the goods we come in contact with every day are even made within our borders, let alone labeled as such?

So I undertook an entire day (er, night — I work the graveyard shift) to see if I could do it: spend a day in the life of “Made in USA.” I lived to tell about it, but just barely.

2:00 A.M. — Anchoring for a show that airs from 4:00-6:00 A.M. , my day starts earlier than most. Time to make some breakfast. Luckily, I had the foresight to check out the Union Square Greenmarket yesterday, where local farmers and growers from the greater NYC area gather to sell their meats, breads, and produce. This should be easy—a bowl of fresh blueberries with a little organic honey. Of course, it’s early, so I’m going to need some coffee…oh wait. Starbucks French Roast? Guess where that’s from? If you guessed France, you’re wrong. It’s actually made from a blend of Latin American coffees. Go figure. Looks like I’m sticking to good ol’ NYC tap water this morning.

If I would have really planned, here are some American products available:

- Kona Coffee

- Bigelow Tea, “US-Plantation Grown Governor’s Gray” variety

- Florida’s Natural orange juice

2:30 A.M. — Getting ready to head to CNBC headquarters in New Jersey, I realize that my clothing options are slightly limited. American Apparel it is, seeing as they are vertically made and manufactured in Los Angeles. Thank goodness it’s too early to run into anyone at the studio. I turn on my TV to prep the day’s headlines…and realize I’m holding the remote to a Samsung TV. Definitely not made in the USA (few electronics are). I’ll have to grab the Wall Street Journal on my way out.

4:00 A.M. — Almost time to go on air. Don’t even get me started on hair and makeup. It turns out that moisturizer and a coat of Burt’s Bees lip-balm (made in Durham, North Carolina) do nothing for the one million watt lights in my face while on-camera. I realized afterward that I should have stocked up on Mary Kay, who still makes many of their cosmetics in the US (and is one of Forbes magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work for in America”). Now that I’ve got “Made in USA” on the brain, I’m realizing two equally scary and interesting things: first that, like most consumers, I actually have no idea where most of my daily products come from; and second that, as it turns out, very few of them are from the US.

Here are a few American products available:

- Mary Kay beauty products

- Morphe cosmetics and supplies

- Conair hair dryer

6:00 A.M. — The show is over, and I’m taking inventory of the things on my desk. Pens: made in China. Notepad: made in China. Dell computer: headquartered in Round Rock, Texas. A lucky find. Still, I know the company manufactures many of its products in Malaysia, China, and India, so I can’t be sure where this specific model comes from. According to FTC regulations, the company might be headquartered in the US, but unless it contains “all or virtually all” ingredients and manufacturing from America….no dice.

Some American-made products desk:

- Expo markers and pens

- Safco office furniture

- Duluth Pack laptop case

10:00 A.M. — Finished with wrap-up, meetings, and planning for tomorrow’s show, so I’m grabbing a car over to 30 Rock for a hit on MSNBC’s “Jansing & Co.” Let’s just hope it’s a Ford Expedition, GMC Sierra or Chevy Impala…otherwise, it’s going to be a long walk over the bridge.

11:00 A.M. — Most people are only on their second coffee, but my workday is over. Before I make some lunch (er, dinner), I lace up my Saucony sneakers for a quick workout. The company, which was founded in Pennsylvania and is headquartered in Massachusetts, “assembles” some of its shoes in the US, while most of the manufacturing happens overseas. Does that count as “Made in USA” by FTC rules? You guessed it — nope.

American gym products available:

- New Balance running shoes and apparel

- Monster headphones

- Poland Spring bottled water

Trying to stick to the American brand has left me hungry and undercaffeinated — yet also intrigued. How much of a commitment do we need to make to “Made in USA” products to benefit the US economy, anyway? Is supporting one local farmer upstate with my morning blueberries enough? And what about the majority of the products that I encountered today, which aren’t entirely “Made in USA” but still provide jobs and innovation to US manufacturers?

In the end, I decide that there needs to be a balance. We do what we can. I buy local fruits and vegetables when I can because, well, they taste better. But also because I like reaching across the counter to hand my bill to the actual person who harvested them. On the other hand, I use an iPhone from Apple , a company that is based in the US but manufactures most of its products in Asia. Does this make me unpatriotic? Am I stunting the US economy? I don’t think so. At the end of the day (or night) I’m just your average consumer, choosing the products that I like and that make my hectic life easier, at a price I can afford. But, the “easier” part is key — and, realistically, buying All-American is just not.

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