When President Obama comes to Montgomery County on Friday, he will speak in front of a two-foot-tall toy helicopter, a toy roller coaster, a toy grandfather clock, a motorized toy carousel, and an American flag made of 49,000 K’Nex pieces.
The Hatfield plastics factory that makes Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs as well as K’Nex will provide a colorful holiday backdrop for the president to talk about the advantages of extending middle-class tax cuts and the dangers of the fiscal cliff. But the company itself is far from threatened, posting 50 percent growth since 2009 and expanding its payroll to 200, a 25 percent increase in Obama’s first term.
“We’ve really over the last four years defied a lot of the headlines,” said Michael Araten, president and CEO of K’Nex Brands. While other companies foundered, reduced staff, and outsourced during the recession, K’Nex moved some of its work back to the United States and saw its profits rise.
The company benefited in 2007 when lead paint spooked American parents away from Chinese-made toys. Now that those concerns have faded, many consumers see K’Nex’s “Made in America” label as a way to help the economy, Araten said.
Two of K’Nex’s biggest competitors, Lego, of Denmark, and Canada’s Mega Bloks, have their components made in China, Denmark, Hungary, Mexico, Germany, the Czech Republic, and elsewhere. K’Nex, which also distributes NASCAR toys and Sesame Street products, likes to market its homegrown credentials.
So why would Obama choose to make his cliff case in one of the nation’s wealthiest counties, with 6.4 percent unemployment, well below the national rate?
Josh Shapiro, Democratic chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, couldn’t say exactly why. But he said the company was a good and seasonally appropriate showcase for American manufacturing.
“This is a great manufacturing story here in the U.S.,” Shapiro said, “and here in Montgomery County, and we’re happy to have the president come back.”
One Republican speculated that Obama aims to sell the middle-class tax cut – along with his proposal to raise taxes on households earning more than $250,000 – to a tough audience.
“He’s making his best pitch where he has the hardest sales job,” county GOP chairman Robert J. Kerns told the Doylestown Intelligencer.