Frank Yurisic feels as swamped as the recently downed intelligence plane in China: He does not know whether his business will be flying in a few months, either.
Yurisic, owner of Fairview, Pa.-based mold-electrode manufacturer Advanced Molding Inc., said many of his customers moved business to China during the past year. It has left him both upset and angry - enough to try to do something about it.
``It's a one-way street,'' Yurisic said. ``In our area, I see a lot of toolmakers going out of business. We helped China build a military might, gave them technology they shouldn't have and subsidized them through the World Bank. Now, we're on the verge of being dependent upon them for skilled work.''
Yurisic has banded with more than 150 toolmaking companies, primarily in the Erie and Meadville, Pa., area, to fight what he sees as an unpatriotic global play. The group, still organizing and without a clear leader, wants to lobby Congress to order tariffs on imports from China.
A mold-protectionist front also is emerging outside Pennsylvania. The American Mold Builders Association in Roselle, Ill., - collectively, the largest group of plastics mold makers in the United States - has launched a campaign along those same border-protecting lines.
``Our biggest problem is China,'' said AMBA National President Olav Bradley. ``This is business at the toughest level, and the place to start is for [mold makers] to write their representatives or congressmen and tell them.''
The group would like to level the playing field between the United States and China for molds. Tools exported from here face heavy trade tariffs, while those coming back from China face minimal tax, Bradley said.
Other vulnerable industries, most notably steel companies, already have won some commitment from political leaders to consider stronger tariffs.
Numbers are a bit hazy on the amount of business lost by toolmakers to China each year, although most experts would say the percentage is growing. And some industries, including electronics, telecommunications and some consumer goods, have been hit especially hard.
The issue has gained attention in mold-making pockets such as Pennsylvania. There, the Erie-based Northwest Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Center, a partly state-funded business group, has met with toolmakers and is devising a plan to counter the perceived Asian threat.
That includes talking to state officials about funding training programs and increasing toolmakers' technical capabilities, according to manufacturing outreach director Hugh Wolcott.
``The weak go first in a tough economy, and that's the law of the jungle,'' he said. ``We want to prevent that.''
But the group has not made headway at the statehouse, according to an economic-development spokesman there. The issue is being watched closely, he said.
Not all toolmaking groups believe a counterpunch against China is the answer. Overall, many more molds now are imported from Canada than from China. Global competition is a fact of life in toolmaking, said Matthew Coffey, president of the Fort Washington, Md.-based National Tooling & Machining Association.
``[Protectionist actions] are a minor solution that isn't going to reverse the market trend or change the fact that we work globally,'' Coffey said. ``Companies need to figure out alliances and ways to compete. If you change your business model, you have a better chance.''
Mold makers also are split on the decision to fight China in Congress. Streetsboro, Ohio-based injection mold maker Crown Mold & Machine has won jobs back from Asia by shortening lead times and pricing, said President Jonathan Day.
``It's surprising how competitive we can be,'' Day said. ``At the end of the day, we fight and fight, and we eventually will take a lot of it back.''
Others are not sure political measures are the answer. Injection toolmaker Shaw Industries Inc. of Franklin, Pa., has laid off workers and is fighting to remain busy, said engineering manager Randy Bell.
``I'm scared too, and I'm afraid there won't be a place for our children in this industry,'' Bell said. ``But I don't see what [the Pennsylvania tool group] is doing that is going to be anything immediate for my business. Maybe it should have been done years ago.''