Today if an American auto company wants to buy a transfer press, it must go to Japanese or German equipment manufacturers, because they dominate the transfer press market.

At one time manufacturing dominated our economy. Remember the saying, “As GM goes so goes the Nation”? Well, that isn't the case anymore. Foreign imports are threatening to eat our lunch. Look around you. The construction industry is thriving. But what do you see going up? Mostly office buildings. The few factories being built are almost all for foreign companies that want to establish a base here. Also, what I've noticed is it's not only large foreign companies that are building plants in this country, but there are many smaller ones as well. These smaller companies are not just the suppliers of components to the larger companies but they also are companies that make machinery and tools.

So have you asked yourself what's going on? How come all the office buildings and no factories?

The answer is simple. We are becoming less and less a nation that manufactures goods and more and more a wholesale distributor of goods. This became really clear to me when I visited the SAE 2001 World Congress in Detroit.

The exhibits were from all over the world. You could see a lot of highly sophisticated equipment and in many cases avant-garde systems. The larger companies, of course, had the biggest exhibits in which they showed off their latest technology. The sad thing was that most of these larger companies were overseas companies, like Bosch, Bridge-stone, Siemens, Denso and Komatsu, to name just a few.

This is a change from the previous shows I used to attend years ago, when large American companies dominated the exhibits. Then you would see a lot of foreigners running around with cameras taking pictures. You don't see that any more. Why should they take pictures of their own products? And there isn't anything they could learn by taking pictures of the American exhibits. There were smaller American companies, of course, that had exhibits. However, when I looked at the program I counted only about 20% that were American-based companies, not counting foreign outfits with American addresses.

I know there are people who will look at this and say: “Okay, what's your point? It looks like a win-win situation.”

Well, it's not. It's a heads-they-win, tails-we-lose situation. We're going to lose our manufacturing base. I suppose that most people don't care who makes the products they buy, as long as it's what they want, it's cheap and the quality is there. But that could all change should we strictly depend on foreign companies to make the products we buy.

This would put all of the power in their hands. They could then control price, quality and even what products they sell us. If they developed a new technology, they might decide to keep it for themselves.

You could say all this is purely hypothetical, and not likely to happen in the real world. But what about OPEC and how they control oil production and prices?

I'll give another example. At one time this country had four or five companies that made large metalforming presses. The auto industry uses hundreds of mammoth presses to stamp out large body panels, and it now has gravitated to the use of a specific type known as a transfer press to make these key body stampings. Yet today if an American auto company wants to buy a transfer press, it must go to Japanese or German equipment manufacturers, because they dominate the transfer press market. The last U.S.-built transfer press was delivered to a Chrysler plant a few years ago.

What if these foreign companies decide, for one reason or another, to sell American companies only presses with old technology? I'm not saying this is being done, but they have this option.

The danger of this can really be highlighted if you look at it from a military standpoint. If our manufacturing base has been reduced to a point where foreign companies produced a large percentage of the parts in our military hardware, you can imagine the possible consequences.

It was reported that in our latest confrontation with China that half the parts in the spy plane's sophisticated equipment were made in Japan or other countries besides the U.S. We're going to have to make sure that in the future we do not get into a conflict with a country that is a major spare parts supplier or we could be in big trouble.

China ships a lot of goods to this country, and it's growing every day. It seems like everything I pick up lately is made in China. There are many people in this country who believe that we can keep China in line by threatening to cut off trade. I don't believe this would work because U.S. business people who use China as a supplier would scream bloody murder.

On the other hand, China could threaten to cut off the flow of goods they send us. I think they could make this work in their favor because of its government and the control it has over its people.

It's time to wake up, America. If we turn over our manufacturing base to foreign companies, it will eventually reduce our standard of living and everything else we enjoy in this country.

Stephan Sharf is a former executive vice president for manufacturing at Chrysler Corp.