Episode 4

Heartland Mainland Episode 4: Made in Iowa

January 29, 2020 Duration: 31:04
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In the fourth episode of Heartland Mainland, we pull apart the history of Iowa’s manufacturing sector and its relationship to China. To do that, we take you to the city of Davenport on the banks of the Mississippi River, along the state’s eastern border with Illinois.

There we visit Isabel Bloom Inc., a local studio with a long history of producing concrete sculptures and Christmas ornaments. Isabel Bloom was founded by its namesake nearly 70 years ago in Davenport, and it steadily grew from a one-woman art studio into a thriving business with loyal customers across the region.

But after China entered the World Trade Organization in 2001, things began to shift. Imported Chinese goods began filling up the shelves of big box stores and small gift shops across the country, putting major pressure on American manufacturers who competed with them.

Job losses in manufacturing extended across the industrial Midwest, including in cities in the manufacturing-heavy eastern border of Iowa. Economists estimate over the course of a decade, these added up to over 1 million jobs lost in American manufacturing. They dubbed this phenomenon, “the China Shock.”

In this episode, we explore the impact of the China Shock in Davenport, looking at the decision by Isabel Bloom’s owners to move production to China. That decision threw Isabel Bloom into the middle of a local uproar. The company was flooded with angry letters, op-eds in the papers lambasted the decision, and angry locals even boycotted the store.

So what led an Iowa business to have to choose between its local heritage and the promise of lower costs? How did it pan out for the workers at Isabel Bloom, and residents of Davenport? And how has the China Shock shaped American politics and the recent US-China trade war?

We dig into all that and a whole lot more in this episode of Heartland Mainland.

We’d like to thank Heartland Mainland’s assistant producer Woojae Julia Song, who wrote the script with us. We also thank our student fellow Shiyun Wen for her work on research and production. Finally, we’d like to thank Asche & Spencer for the music.


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