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Donald Trump can't buy TV sets made in the USA

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is a big fan of Made in America—and a critic of offshoring—with his "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan. He recently bemoaned the fact that he can't buy television sets made in the United States. In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Trump commented that he "just ordered 4,000 television sets. You know where they come from? South Korea. I don't want to order them from South Korea. I don't think anybody makes television sets in the United States anymore.

Clare Goldsberry

October 23, 2015

4 Min Read
Donald Trump can't buy TV sets made in the USA

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is a big fan of Made in America—and a critic of offshoring—with his "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan. He recently bemoaned the fact that he can't buy television sets made in the United States. In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Trump commented that he "just ordered 4,000 television sets. You know where they come from? South Korea. I don't want to order them from South Korea. I don't think anybody makes television sets in the United States anymore. I don't want to order from South Korea; I want to order from here."

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Image courtesy Digitalart/freedigitalphotos.net.

Well, I doubt that the television sets that Trump ordered actually came from South Korea. Most likely they were made in Mexico, where nearly all the television sets made for the North American market are manufactured by the Big Three foreign TV makers: Samsung, LG Electronics and Panasonic. All have large manufacturing facilities in Mexico.

I remember writing about the demise of television manufacturing in the United States back in the 1990s, when consolidation among the various brands was happening and manufacturing plants were moving to Mexico from the United States. I wrote in 1995 about the last surviving TV manufacturer, Zenith, giving up the competitive battle with the Asian TV makers, and selling controlling interest to South Korean giant, LG Electronics. In 1999, Zenith became a wholly owned subsidiary of LG.

Quite a few injection molders got their start and grew their companies making plastic components for TVs. One of the pioneers in developing and molding plastic TV housings and bezels was Jim Hemphill, who is credited with bringing the first injection molding machine to Mississippi in 1951. He drove from Mississippi to northern Ohio to find a molding machine, and settled on a "minijector." Because it was a small machine, he disassembled it and drove back to Mississippi with the parts in the trunk and back seat of his car.

Hemphill's business grew, after a few fits and starts, and he was molding TV housings and bezels for both RCA and Zenith, which provided much better sound quality than the wood housings, much to those companies' surprise. (Read the entire article on Hemphill here).

A report in the online publication PolitiFact noted that some "fact checking" found that there are a couple of TV component manufacturers in the United States—Element Electronics assembles some products in South Carolina and Seura produces mirrors for TVs and other applications in Green Bay, WI.

That hardly qualifies as manufacturing TVs in the United States. Mexico has been the recipient of TV and electronics manufacturing that once called the United States home. Electronics companies moved their manufacturing to Mexico to take advantage of the lower costs to manufacture, and today TV/electronics manufacturers can be found throughout Mexico.

While the electronics sector has "lagged the auto industry in growth over the last decade or so," wrote MexicoNow Editor Sergio L. Ornelas in the July/August issue of the publication, there is a lot of opportunity for growth in the years ahead. Ornelas notes that the industry is divided into two segments: the OEMs and the Electronic Manufacturing Services (EMS) subcontractors for electronics assembly. "Many OEMs in Mexico such as Philips, Nokia, Samsung, HP, Toshiba, IBM, Sony and many others use their own facilities as well as those of EMS firms under specific work orders, and many times opportunistically for overflow production," Ornelas said.

In Baja California, Mexico, for example, MexicoNow lists a "who's who" in electronics products manufacturing: Sony, Foxconn (an EMS), Philips, Samsung, Sanyo, Pioneer, LG, Panasonic and many more. Many of those same companies also have manufacturing plants in Jalisco, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and the State of Mexico. It's easy to see that Mexico is quickly becoming an electronics powerhouse in North America.

Thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), many U.S. suppliers to the TV industry export products to Mexico to be assembled into TV sets and various other consumer electronics. So there are many opportunities for U.S. suppliers to expand business to those companies in Mexico, given that country's close proximity to the United States and the convenience that offers.

I'm glad that Trump is a supporter of "Make It in the USA" and the jobs it brings. We can also be glad that our neighbor to the south offers tremendous opportunities for U.S. suppliers to work with that burgeoning industry there.

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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