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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Making It Count for California

California leads the nation in economic output in agriculture and manufacturing, but these two sectors have been hit hard in recent years. As a result, the state has had to brainstorm for ways to protect these seemingly fail-safe industries. In 2002, the state created the California Grown program, in which in-state harvesters could label their products with a “California Grown” sticker. After California Grown was launched, the program reported that sales of the state’s agricultural products increased by 7 percent and the number of residents that found it important to buy California agricultural products increased 23 percent. That momentum continued through the Great Recession, as in-state agricultural output continued to increase by 13 percent between 2010 and 2011. The San Fernando Valley is not an agriculture center, but it is home to manufacturing of all kinds, from aerospace and defense to cosmetics and sportswear. The San Fernando Valley Business Journal reports that 55 of the region’s largest manufacturing companies employ more than 15,000 people in the Valley. It is more crucial than ever to develop a marketing strategy to highlight the products made in our state. A statewide marketing strategy can help our small businesses maintain a competitive edge against businesses that decide to manufacture out of the state or even out of the country. This is why the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) supports California Senate Bill 12, which would create a voluntary “Made in California” labeling program for manufactured goods. The state would charge an application fee to companies interested in the program, in exchange for the right to stamp their product with the “Made in California” label. In order to participate, a company must design and manufacture at least one physical product in California and must have a California-based work force. Only those products manufactured in the state could be stamped with the label. There’s already evidence that the “Buy Local” mantra extends beyond agriculture. Perception Research Services International found in a September 2012 study that 76 percent of shoppers said they would be more likely to buy a product because of a “Made in the USA” label. California’s manufacturing sector is certainly large enough to warrant its own program, as it accounts for more than 11 percent of the total output in the state and employs almost 9 percent of the work force. Throughout the years, California Grown has organized campaigns with groceries like Vons and quick-service restaurants like Subway to promote produce grown in the state. There are ample opportunities to replicate these promotional efforts with the wide spectrum of products that fall under California manufacturing. While VICA supports SB 12, it recommends that the bill be amended to include adequate processes to ensure that the majority of the product is assembled by in-state workers or California contractors. There are regular reports of companies misleading the public with false claims of products as “Made in the USA,” when in reality, crucial parts of the product were imported or the work was outsourced. For a “Made in California” program to have any teeth, companies can’t find loopholes that help them qualify while still utilizing out-of-state or out-of-country resources. The bill in its current form states that any misrepresentation by a manufacturer would be punishable under the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act. This mirrors sentiment in a 2011 California Supreme Court ruling that concluded that four customers had the right to sue a lock company that falsely advertised its locks as “Made in the USA.” It was revealed that some parts came from Taiwan and the locks were partially assembled in Mexico. But the legislation would be stronger if it was proactive in providing more specific provisions on what constitutes being “Made in California,” instead of just creating remedies for misrepresentation. Additionally, if this bill formed more stringent requirements for the label, then qualified manufacturers would have even more cause to promote their localized production and employment. Manufacturing is a core industry that drives the health of the state and the Valley. SB 12 is not mandatory but it gives manufacturers a chance to stand out, and research shows that consumers respond positively to local products. The bill is a step in the right direction to support local manufacturing and with the suggested amendments the program could be even more valuable. The Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) is a business advocacy organization based in Sherman Oaks that represents employers throughout the Los Angeles County region at the local, state and federal levels of government.

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