Trade

The Friday Podcast: Buttons And Other Connectors

wood buttons
Brian McCabe

The U.S. is the world's biggest manufacturer — way bigger than China, according to the National Association of Manufacturing. So why doesn't it feel that way?

On today's Planet Money, we visit two factories to find out.

Factory #1

Back in the day, the Buttonwood Corporation ran double shifts at its New York City factory, with 150 machines cranking out tens of thousands of buttons.

These days, Chinese factories not only have cheaper labor, but also newer, fancier machines. Buttonwood — a family business, owned by two brothers — has just one employee left. They sell small orders of wood buttons, and take orders online at woodbuttons.com.

Factory #2

The Zierick Manufacturing Corporation makes products that are all around us, but we never notice: Little pieces of metal that connect electronics components to control panels.

This sounds like the kind of cheap, commodity item that would be made in China. But it isn't; Zierick's factory is in upstate New York.

Zierick's trick is to keep coming up with new, patentable ideas to make connectors better and better. So if you want a really good, reliable, connector, it's worth it to pay more and get one from them.

The company's doing well. They have lots of employees, lots of customers. They just have to keep coming up with new ideas to stay ahead of everybody else.

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