Monument to America’s Glass City Made With Chinese Glass
In a move to celebrate its distinction as America’s “Glass City,” the Toledo Museum of Art recently erected a $30 million Glass Pavilion made of 360 glass panels weighing over 1,300 pounds each.
The project is meant to be an ode to America’s industrial might, with one minor exception: all of the glass was made in China.
“China is the America of the 1880s, 1890s,” Quentin R. Skrabec Jr., an industrial historian at Ohio’s University of Findlay, told The Wall Street Journal. “Pittsburgh was the steel; Akron was the rubber; Toledo was the glass city.”
China, as it has in dozens of other industries in the past two decades, has supplanted America to become the world’s top producer of glass products, producing some 45 percent of the world‘s glass.
Over the course of the decade, China has drastically increased its production of glass products. Since 2003, Chinese glass production has climbed 67 percent.
As is usually the case when China decides to foster a domestic industry, their growth has come at the expense of America. From 2001 to 2008, as China’s glass industry grew exponentially, America lost 40,000, or 30 percent, of its jobs in the industry.
Toledo has been particularly hard hit by China’s emergence as a world power in the glass industry. Today, Toledo employs roughly 2,500 glass workers. In 1973, the city employed 10,000 in the industry.
China’s rise in the industry has not been a result of holding a comparative advantage in glassmaking, but rather through the same mercantilist practices that have made it a manufacturing powerhouse in other industries.
Chinese policies such as “indigenous innovation” have forced transfers of American technology to Chinese companies by requiring access to said technology in exchange for access to China’s massive and growing market.
A glaring lack of environmental standards have also aided the Chinese glassmaking industry. Western glass makers are forced to shell out much more than their Chinese counterparts for reducing pollutants.
More than anything, however, Chinese glassmakers have benefited greatly from receiving illegal subsidies. A 2009 study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute found that from 2004 to 2008, the industry received over $30 billion in government subsidies.
“The story of the glass industry in China and in the U.S. is a familiar one that could have an especially sad ending for many U.S. workers unless China can be persuaded to remove its thumb from the scale. Until this subsidy problem is addressed and fair competition can be restored, U.S. glass manufacturers will face continuing pressures to downsize or close plants,” said EPI senior international economist Robert Scott.
Toledo’s Museum of Art is not the only example of a monument to Americana being built using primarily Chinese glass. Perhaps the most prescient sign of the industry’s decline, however, is the fact that much of the glass that will go into the yet-to-be rebuilt One World Trade Center building, a symbol of America’s resiliency, strength and determination, will be made by a Chinese company.
Last April, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey shunned a bid by a Pittsburgh-based company to manufacture the glass. PPG Industries had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in plant upgrades in hopes of winning the $82 million contract. Instead, it was awarded to DCM Erectors Inc/Solera Construction, a New York City-based company that intends to subcontract the work to Zetian Systems of Las Vegas, which in turn will subcontract with China Beijing Glass to manufacture the glass.
“Our domestic glass industry is the most efficient in the world,” the Alliance for American Manufacturing wrote in a letter to the Obama administration. “But it cannot compete against production that is heavily subsidized by the Chinese government.”