The decay of quality-assured America

For 30 years I've traveled the globe, reaping the benefits that come with being a U.S. salesman selling U.S.-manufactured goods.

My career is one of many that has flourished in the sector of U.S. exports, which accounts for more than 12 percent of the United States' GDP and nearly 11 million jobs. This has largely been due to a beaming international perception of American products' quality.

But now things are different.

The United States is struggling. A stumbling economy and disgraceful response to the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted our country's decaying image on the international stage, and massive social movements have upheaved the utopian perception of American business.

As the country moves forward, repairing the economy and adapting its institutions to better weather future crises, U.S. business must consider the damage that's been done to its brand - and how it can rebuild.

In my decades of experience, and for decades before I was born, an American salesperson had the advantage of a perception of quality. As we opened our bag or demoed our product, with us was the full weight and reputation of American exceptionalism. Success with selling in the U.S. market served as a guarantee of quality with a majority of international business partners.

Each and every bag-carrying salesperson, whether or not they had availed themselves of the myriad services that U.S. federal and state governments provide to support exports, had benefited from the value global markets gave our products and trade. Our infrastructure, our education, our science, our laws - all of these drive our national brand, drive our sales and, ultimately, put food on the table.

Now, our country's role has shifted. The European Union lumps the United States with Brazil and Russia as countries with such chaotic infrastructure that they can't be trusted to be safe. Years ago, when we would talk about BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China), we were describing large developing countries that were good target markets for products that were not sophisticated enough to be sold to Japan and the EU. Now, we've become members of that group - a large country with poor government.

We are now in a situation that makes it harder to sell. Harder to sell wheat, tractors, airplanes, software - every export is now more of a challenge to send beyond our borders. The United States - for generations the home of scientific thought, innovation and quality - has exposed to the world the weaknesses of our polity and economic systems. Israel, Germany, South Korea, Singapore, Scandinavia and virtually every other industrial country has shown that they can react faster, smarter and better than we have.

Our first steps toward undoing this backslide is confronting the problem and looking at how we can improve our international footing. Countries like South Korea and Israel, whose exports account for 44 percent and 30 percent of their economics respectively, have created thriving export economies and provide insightful models of how our economy needs to be improved. In these countries, the role of international sales leader is a vocation. High schools, community colleges and universities feature programs aimed at preparing individuals specifically for export sales. Discussion forums and conventions allow sales leaders to share and cross pollinate ideas.

To meet this challenge, the United States must make two key changes - dedicate more time and funding toward the education and training of the next generation of salespeople and bolster the U.S. Commercial Service's funding, while also recognizing its indispensable role in our economy. Our country can reclaim its position in the global economy - it's just going to take time and unbridled effort.

• Zach Selch is an international sales consultant and the VP of Global Sales for PharmaJet, a Colorado-based medical technology company.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.