Shoppers in Pennsylvania might have something new to notice on items in store aisles in the coming holiday shopping seasons as a state lawmaker has proposed legislation for a program to identify goods made in the commonwealth.
The initiative would build upon the PA Preferred program administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture for state agricultural products, according to a statement from state Rep. Neal Goodman, D-Schuylkill County, who proposed House Bill 1800.
The "Made in PA" logo would include a wider range of items not covered by the PA Preferred label, and the state Department of Community and Economic Development would administer the program, according to Goodman's office.
There would be multiple benefits of a program, said state Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Armstrong and Westmoreland counties and House Manufacturing Caucus co-chairman.
One is to educate consumers so they can know which products are made in Pennsylvania and can buy them based on the information if they want to, he said.
A second would be a database of companies that would allow business buyers to know if they can buy something from Pennsylvania suppliers, Evankovich said.
Tours by the caucus have occurred throughout the state, and in some cases representatives from businesses have joined the tours of other operations in their local areas, he said.
"In some instances, the folks had never met. And in a few circumstances, they actually found customers," Evankovich said. "I think, inherently, people want to support their local economies."
Having a supplier close by can also cut down on transportation costs or help solve supply-chain issues, he said.
More customers are interested in made-in-America products today, said Scott Hittie, co-owner of two True Value Plus locations serving the Shrewsbury and Loganville areas in York County.
Hittie said people have even brought back products, such as pet food, if they see they are foreign-made. Someone recently went so far as to drop a message in a suggestion box that said the person would buy more from the business if it offered more made-in-America products, Hittie said.
The message drove home the point that the business should be thinking more about selling such products. Unfortunately, some products, such as nails, are difficult to find as a U.S.-made offering, Hittie said.
"To have a comparable product, sometimes it's double the price," he said. "It's hard to have (those) products sometimes, but I do think we need to consider it more."
Customers don't talk as much about made-in-Pennsylvania products, but the business knows some of its offerings come from the state and will bring it up with customers, Hittie said.
"People do respect that, and if we keep having some push for that, maybe people would even start thinking that way a little more," Hittie said.
But, he said, it might not make sense to have "Made in PA" right on items if they are sold in a multistate area.
"Someone from Delaware or Virginia might not care it's made in Pennsylvania as much as it's made in America," Hittie said.
Michael Smeltzer, executive director of York County-based the Manufacturers' Association, also said it might not make sense for manufacturers who sell into a lot of states to put the logo right on their products.
A positive of the program would be to increase awareness — both by the public and at a business-to-business level, he said. And Smeltzer also said he sees value in the database for business-to-business buying.
But from the costs of administration and having to determine what exactly qualifies as being made in Pennsylvania, all of that effort might be greater than how many more products people might buy that are made in the state, he said.
"The made-in-USA (marketing) makes a lot more sense because you draw in this loyalty that 'I only want to buy things made in America,'" he said. "But made in Pennsylvania? I don't know."
Options such as retail displays for Pennsylvania markets might be right for some companies to take advantage of the program, Evankovich said.
"This is certainly just a tool," he said. "It's not something that's going to be a silver bullet."
The PA Preferred program launched about 10 years ago, and legislation signed in 2011 gave a sense of permanence to the product brand benefiting a range of Pennsylvania business interests.
State Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland County, sponsored House Bill 1424 to make PA Preferred a more permanent creation of the legislature.
Around the time the governor signed the bill in fall 2011, there were about 1,500 members; earlier this fall, the program was closing in on 2,000 licensees, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
Members use the PA Preferred logo with products they make, sell or otherwise are involved with to signify the items come from Pennsylvania. They also get other benefits such as participation in buyer-vendor shows, the department said.