On a recent visit to Quebec, a business contact there asked me, as part of a conversation about the woes of the US automobile industry, why American patriotism and perceived pressures to “buy American” did not seem to extend to car purchases. There are a few reasons for this, I suggested, including the reliability of Japanese-made cars and the exoticness of foreign sports cars.

But the main one is that the huge manufacturing investments that foreign automakers have made into the US since the early 1990s have made their products, in a sense, domestic products. German and Japanese auto companies, which have clustered in the south-eastern US, are not only local employers of choice but also local brands of choice. It is a natural fit.

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Part of the thinking behind the Invest in America initiative, launched this spring by the US federal government, is to make Americans aware of the economic benefits of foreign investment into the country. Such a campaign is sorely needed, mainly as a counter to fears about outsourcing and silly talk by politicians about ‘Benedict Arnold’ corporations that betray the country by sending jobs overseas.

The average American already understands that foreign companies provide jobs – but this understanding tends to be on a micro rather than macro level. Even the millions of Americans who work for overseas-based companies are unlikely to think of themselves as the beneficiaries of foreign investments; the term ‘foreign direct investment’ is not part of the popular vernacular. And why should it be? What matters most is job creation. The longer a company is present in a country and the bigger its presence grows, that origin matters less and less. Over time it can become local, in perception if not by tax or regulatory status.

This is not unique to the US, of course. Years ago an American friend told me how she got into an argument with an Australian who insisted that Ford was an Australian rather than American company. Ford started making cars in Australia in the 1920s, so in fact he had every reason to feel some ownership of this brand. Ultimately, the mark of a successful foreign investment is one that people forget is foreign.

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Courtney Fingar, editor