NEOCAM: When WIRE-Net Decided to Take On the World

Gordon Barr

The year was 1999 and Gordon Barr had just purchased NewKor, Inc., a Cleveland manufacturer of high end insulation jackets for exploders and rockets, and one of the largest manufacturers of mailing tubes in the state of Ohio. Back then, U.S. manufacturing enjoyed a level of prominence, producing much of what the market needed to sustain growth.

Fast-forward to 2006. Foreign competition had swallowed up much of that prominence as manufacturing left U.S. shores for faraway lands.

"In those 10 years, there was a solid erosion of the manufacturing base, primarily at the hands of the Chinese," said Barr. "And that was tough to deal with, especially on the consumer products side."

2006 was also the year that Barr assumed the Chairman's role at WIRE-Net. And after being asked by founder John Colm, "How do you want to define your chairmanship?" Barr decided that it was time to face foreign competition head-on.

He called upon NEOCAM, the Northeast Ohio Campaign for American Manufacturing, still in its infancy after being formed in 2004 as a coalition of industry associations representing 600 Northeast Ohio member companies and 26,000 employees. Barr used NEOCAM as WIRE-Net's mouthpiece to reach legislators and the media.

"The biggest contribution we made was to educate the Congress, the Senate and anyone who would listen to us, that the Chinese hadn't floated their currency since 1992, which gave them a 40% advantage in terms of currency manipulation over U.S.-made products," he recalled. "We were kind of a cry in the forest when we first started. But nowadays people are really focusing on leveling the playing field, and saying, 'Wow! The Chinese are really manipulating their currency, and there's a lot of unfair advantages that they're exploiting that have really hurt the U.S. manufacturing base."

Barr is proud of the early accomplishments and WIRE-Net’s leading role. "I'd like to think that we were that early voice in the forest that said we need to draw attention to this, and the advocacy that we pursued," he said. "We were probably that first wave of trying to draw attention to it. So I think that maybe we traded some foundation there that has really turned into a groundswell."

"People are recognizing now that manufacturing matters," Barr continued. "That manufacturing is critical to the domestic health of the United States. And without it, you're pulling one of the legs out of the stool, and the stool can't stand on two legs. And there is some repatriation going on right now with products that were manufactured offshore. It's coming back, so it's nice to see that. It's small right now, but I hope it blossoms. But we're really going to work hard to see that it happens."

It's 2013, and the Chinese have started floating their currency, making it less tied to the dollar than it previously was, explained Barr.

Was it worth all the effort? According to Barr the experience not only helped him, it brought business owners together, strongly united for a common cause.

"We hit it hard for three or four years, then greater minds took over," he said. "You know, the tough thing about being a small manufacturer is that you're so tied up in day-to-day operations that you don't have time to go out and be an advocate. So NEOCAM, with John Colm's help, was able to take the pulse of the [issue] and take it to a national forum. We started regionally with the elected officials and it's morphed into a much greater awareness than it was originally."

EDITOR'S NOTE: You can view a brief video of Gordon Barr talking about NEOCAM on WIRE-Net's YouTube channel.

"I like the camaraderie of being with other business owners and other people that are in the same mode that I am in terms of trying to increase manufacturing domestically, and actually stepping up to the plate and doing something about it."

Gordon Barr, WIRE-Net Board Chairman, 2006

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