I honestly didn’t know what to think when I learned last year that the bid to supply blast-resistant glass for the new World Trade Center tower went to a Chinese company. On the one hand, I’m all for cost savings, provided the product or service is high quality. On the other, I identified with PPG spokesman Jack Maurer when he said in a Patriot-News interview: "This is going to be an iconic U.S. building that will have Chinese glass in it. At the end of the day, this glass could be made in the United States."
These feelings resurfaced when I read a recent New York Times article, in which Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) echoed Maurer's sentiment. “Imagine China building a huge structure intended to be an important national symbol and importing glass from the United States to build it," Brown said. "There is no way the Chinese would do that.”
In the New York Times article and a subsequent Toledo Blade piece, the national media called attention to the declining state of domestic glass production, citing Beijing Glass’ winning bid as evidence of U.S. glass manufacturers’ struggle to compete against foreign suppliers. The Chinese glass industry, specifically, experienced a three-fold increase in exports to the U.S. from 2000 to 2008, while the U.S. trade deficit with China on glass tripled in the same period, according to an Economic Policy Institute study.
“Our domestic glass industry is the most efficient in the world, but it cannot compete against production that is heavily subsidized by the Chinese government,” said Scott Paul, executive director for the Alliance for American Manufacturing, in a letter to glass executives last fall. “As a result, glass production in the U.S. has suffered in recent years, with plant closings and thousands of lost jobs throughout the country.”
According to an EPI release, the U.S. glass industry has contracted by about 30 percent—nearly 40,000 jobs—since 2001. Sixteen states, among them California, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, have lost at least one out of four of their glass industry jobs since 2001. See how the float plant landscape in North America has changed over the past five years, here.
To help domestic glass manufacturers compete, some are pushing for tariffs on Chinese imports. Others, like Sen. Brown, are calling for a national manufacturing policy to lower the cost of doing business in the U.S. As for the glass manufacturers themselves, some—like Guardian, which The New York Times reports will supply the glass for the upper 85 floors of the tower—are continuing to expand glass production overseas. Read how, here.
"Those who are looking through the rearview mirror, waiting for the glass industry in this country to come back, should know it isn't going to come back, not the way it was," said Russ Ebeid, Guardian chairman, in the New York Times article.
What do you think the future holds for domestic glass production? Is a return to growth in the cards? Is government intervention the answer?
—Jenni Chase, Editor, Glass Magazine