In an increasingly globalized world, Americans are used to seeing products labeled, “Made in China,” “Made in Cambodia,” and “Made in Bangladesh.” For generations, this international trade was a sign of the United States’ booming economy and white-collar society. But what effect has “Made in China” actually had on our economy and our society? In Factory Man, journalist Beth Macy gives readers an inside look at how international outsourcing has ravaged America’s furniture industry – and how one man has risked everything to fight back and keep his business American-made.
Macy’s “Factory Man” is John Bassett III, chairman and CEO of Vaughn-Basset Furniture Company in southern Virginia. The company, originally founded as Bassett Furniture by John’s grandfather, has manufactured and sold American-made furniture since 1902. Throughout the years, Bassett Furniture grew exponentially, even inspiring the growth of Bassett, Virginia, a small, unincorporated town organized to sustain the furniture factories. Thanks to the furniture industry, the border region between Virginia and North Carolina boasted the lowest unemployment rates in the country for decades – but now, these communities are plagued by some of the highest. Macy calls Bassett, Virginia, a ghost town, where even the street lamps don’t always turn on.
It all changed when American furniture manufacturers experienced unwelcome and unbeatable competition from Chinese manufacturers. Chinese companies benefitted from the widespread availability of cheap labor and cheap materials in the Communist state, and American companies like Bassett Furniture were widely shut out of the wholesale market. In an interview with NPR, Macy claims that 300,000 Americans lost their jobs because of this competition, and Bassett Furniture closed many of its factories.
Still, John Bassett III refused to admit defeat to the Chinese manufacturers. He researched their products, investigated their techniques and even met with their executives face-to-face. They told him to give up, but instead, he fought back. Today, he employs 700 people, and 100 percent of his products are American-made. The company may be growing slowly, but it has survived the worst of the competition by sticking to the idea of “Made in America.”
Factory Man is a must-read story about standing up for our local economies and the communities they serve. It’s about fighting for American workers and creating American jobs. In an age where unemployment has become a norm, the story of Bassett Furniture is both relevant and relatable, and it should remind us all why fighting for local businesses and American-made products is so important.
To find Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local – and Helped Save an American Town at a local bookstore near you, check out Independent We Stand’s local business search engine or mobile app.