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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Nashua South students, teachers in pursuit of American-made

Danielle Curtis

Walk through the Pheasant Lane Mall and it’s easy to find products made in China, Indonesia, Thailand, Canada, even Israel. But venture off in search of American-made goods and your trip will be a little more difficult.

A group of students from Nashua High School South discovered that last Tuesday, as they roamed the mall in search of products made in the United States – all part of a project started by their high school social studies department. ...

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Walk through the Pheasant Lane Mall and it’s easy to find products made in China, Indonesia, Thailand, Canada, even Israel. But venture off in search of American-made goods and your trip will be a little more difficult.

A group of students from Nashua High School South discovered that last Tuesday, as they roamed the mall in search of products made in the United States – all part of a project started by their high school social studies department.

What they found was an overwhelming number of products made in China, and a small percentage made in this country. Larger nationwide brands were the most likely to have foreign-made goods, while smaller companies and more obscure products – like a wooden turkey carving board with directions on how to stuff the bird – were more likely to be made in America.

“This was supposed to be a lot easier,” said South junior Erica Regan as she walked through mall department stores, frustrated by her struggle to find goods made in the country.

The project, an off-shoot of ABC News’ “Made in America” holiday shopping campaign, has students researching products made in America and learning about what kind of impact buying domestic goods can have on the economy.

According to national census data, the average American spends $700 on holiday shopping each year. If just $64 of that was spent on American-made goods, 200,000 jobs could be created during the holiday season, according to the “Made in America” campaign.

Sociology teacher Kelly Ward started the project at the school with students in her course on social problems in America. From there, she spread the idea throughout the social studies department and got several other teachers on board.

Last week, when dozens of high schoolers took over the Pheasant Lane Mall for project research, there were students from sociology, history and even psychology courses present.

“When you ask someone whether they buy American-made goods, the response tends to be, ‘nothing is made in America,’ ” Ward said.

“We’re trying to show where there are such goods, so there is no excuse, so there is no more apathy.”

Several other teachers involved – history teachers Melissa Bellemare and Josh Totten-Greenwood, English teacher Kim Montine and psychology teacher Kim Carrozza – said they were eager to get on board.

“It’s one of those things a lot of people hadn’t really thought about,” Montine said of buying local goods. “But maybe if we look for things, try to figure out where American goods are available, people will make the choice to buy there, rather than just buy whatever they find.”

Many of the students involved said they hadn’t spent time thinking about where the items they purchase are made. The project, they said, has changed their perspective.

“If we can do that, buy local goods, it would help the economy and help everyone’s situations,” said junior George Landry. “I think it’s going to be a little more important to all of us when we shop, especially now that we know how big of an impact it has.”

Still, as students found last week, while finding American-made products is not impossible, it can be a challenge.

Juniors Shantelle Richards, Landry and Regan walked through the mall together last week, along with dozens of their fellow students, searching through small shops and big department stores in search of locally made products.

At Stonewall Kitchen, there were several products made in Maine, where the company is based. Other smaller kiosks were full of locally made products, since individuals can rent them to sell their own handmade goods and other products.

But in the larger department stores where major brands are sold, finding American-made goods was difficult.

“China, China, China, Indonesia,” said Richards, filing through a rack of women’s clothing at Sears.

Landry had similar issues in the home goods section, where kitchen appliances were made everywhere from China to Israel, but not the United States.

While their research was not exactly scientific, and it was impossible to analyze every single product sold in each store, students said they believe they were able to look through a large sampling of goods in various mall stores.

And once they gathered to share their findings, it was clear that while the majority of goods sold in the mall are foreign-made, all is not lost for shoppers who want to start buying American-made products.

A group of Totten-Greenwood’s students found that in three major mall stores – Target, Macy’s and Sears – the United States was the second most common manufacturer of kitchen appliances, with 28 American-made goods found.

At Macy’s, the students found a total of nine American-made products, compared to 273 made in China. At Target, the students were able to identify 11 American-made products, compared to 199 made in China. Students found the highest number of American-made goods in Sears, where they identified 27, compared to 148 made in China.

Going forward, the students will be collecting their data to share with the community, in hopes of providing a list of stores where local goods can be found.

Psychology students involved in the project also will be working on print and video ad campaigns to encourage locals to buy American-made products.

The students said that while it’s a little late for this year’s holiday shopping season, they hope the information will stick with shoppers throughout the year and inspire them to think before they shop.

“It’s really eye-opening when you walk around and find that so few of the products around us are actually made here,” Richards said. “Hopefully, it will open other people’s eyes, too.”

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua
telegraph.com. Also follow Curtis on Twitter (Telegraph_DC).