Rick Santorum

In Washington, they think that “Made in the U.S.A.” is as outdated as carbon paper, and it was bad policies from both parties that hurt American manufacturing.

Only yesterday manufacturing was a key contributor to our nation’s wealth and strength, and it was the economic foundation of many hardworking families. The evaporation of U.S. manufacturing, consequently, was devastating to working Americans.

To explain the challenges that American manufacturers face, let me tell you about Bemidji Woolen Mills, a family-run business I got to know in 2012 when I was running for president.

Campaigning across the frigid Midwest, I’d wear a sweater vest under my suit jacket to avoid packing a bulky overcoat. One evening in Iowa after a long night of speeches, I took off my jacket, and that sweater vest took on a life of its own.

Voters were looking for a down-to-earth alternative to President Obama—someone who shared their values and concerns. Obama is famously “cool”—you can’t imagine him in a sweater vest. But a lot of Americans were fed up with his indifference to their plight. The sweater vest became a symbol of the “middle America” that Barack Obama and his sophisticated friends despise.

People started asking how they could get a Santorum sweater vest. With my focus on reviving manufacturing, I decided that if we were going to offer sweater vests, they better be made in America.

Easier said than done.

It proved remarkably difficult to find a sweater that was completely American-made and available in the quantities we needed. But eventually we found Bill Batchelder in Bemidji, Minnesota.

Bill’s great-grandfather started out sawing railroad ties for underground mines. He managed to save enough money to start a potato warehouse in Bemidji. Later he realized that every town needed a woolen mill to make clothing, so he turned his potato warehouse into one, and Bemidji Woolen Mills was born.

When the Chevy factory closed down in 1929, at the onset of the Great Depression, Bill’s great-grandfather purchased it, despite everybody’s warning that it was a bad idea. He wanted to move the woolen mill into a larger space, and the factory seemed perfect.

Rick Santorum

Former Senator Rick Santorum is the author of Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works.

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