Inaugural Souvenirs Provide Boost for Vt. Manufacturer

(NECN: Jack Thurston - Middlebury, Vt.) - Mike Rainville has been a small business owner for more than two-thirds of his life.

"It keeps money in the local economy," the businessman said of his homegrown manufacturing company in Middlebury, Vt.

Rainville started selling handmade wood products when he was just 15 years old. His parents owned a general store in Lincoln, Vt., where he sold toys and gift items. Other retailers in the area also sold his creations, he said.

More than 30 years later, Rainville's Maple Landmark Woodcraft is a leading manufacturer of old-fashioned wooden toys. Rainville said they are all proudly made in the USA.

"They might be a little higher price than something that comes from somewhere else, but you get quality," he said.

On Monday, Rainville was thinking of what was going on in Washington D.C., as President Obama's limousine wound its way to the celebration of the start of his second term. A recent job asked the Vermont toymaker to commemorate the presidential limo in wooden form.

"This is tested for ages two and up," Rainville said, holding a child's toy limousine. The car is printed black with gold lettering that reads "57th Presidential Inauguration, January 21, 2013."

The Presidential Inaugural Committee picked Maple Landmark Woodcraft and other manufacturers to produce official souvenirs of the inauguration. Maple Landmark told NECN it sold 600 limos wholesale to the Presidential Inaugural Committee, and that the committee's online store and temporary retail space in the nation's capital were the only places to buy the toys. The limos retail for $20 on the company’s website.

On its website, the Presidential Inaugural Committee said all the merchandise it is selling is American-made. Advocates for American manufacturing, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., say more and more people are looking for products labeled "Made in the USA" whenever possible.

In June 2011, Sanders praised the launch of a new store at the Smithsonian Institution that, at the strong urging of Sanders, would sell exclusively American products.

"Everybody understands our middle class is hurting," Sanders said at the store's opening 18 months ago. "We have lost millions of good manufacturing jobs in this country."

Sanders has said that if consumers were to buy more products their neighbors produced, that would help preserve jobs in this country, while ensuring better environmental and workplace safety standards than what are practiced by many offshore manufacturers.

"Manufacturing in this country is not a totally lost art," Rainville told NECN on Monday.

Rainville and his 40 workers are thankful the Presidential Inaugural Committee went shopping in this country for its commemorative goods. And the crew in Middlebury hopes the message to "buy American" lasts well after the inauguration festivities end.

"To make something for [the inaugural] is a special opportunity," Rainville said.

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