More than an hour into our chat on Sunday afternoon, Jack Davis looked at my iPhone and said, "That's probably made with Gorilla Glass."
Davis, founder and president of I Squared R in Akron, then explained that his very first customer was Corning, the inventor of Gorilla Glass.
The recipe for Gorilla Glass -- a very tough, durable type of glass -- sat on a shelf for decades until high-tech electronics such as flat-screen TVs and smart phones needed just such a product.
In order to manufacture the glass, Corning turned to Davis, whose company makes just the kind of silicon carbide heating elements Corning needed to start manufacturing Gorilla Glass for Apple and other companies.
When it came time to ship the elements, Dave found out they were going to Japan.
"It broke my heart," Davis said. "We don’t make those (iPhones) here, we don’t make the TVs, we don’t make flat screens. (The elements are) just another product we ship over there and they can back engineer it and that business will be gone."
Jack Davis is making his fourth attempt at winning a seat in Congress -- this time to replace Shirtless Chris Lee in a NY-26 special election -- for one reason, and one reason only: To save American jobs.
"We have to grow, dig or manufacture to produce wealth," Davis said. "Unless you do that, you’re just growing your debt. We have to make everything we use or consume."
Davis knows Batavia and knows what losing a manufacturing base can do to a community. Among his company's early customers were Sylvania and Doehler Jarvis.
"Batavia has been hit like many of the industrial cities have been," Davis said. "You have a lot of farms, but you did have a big manufacturing base.
"Cities and communities that have lost the jobs are a lot more receptive to my message of saving jobs and getting out of those free trade agreements," he added.
Davis isn't against all trade with foreign countries. He just thinks it should be fair trade. If we trade with another country, he said, that country should buy as much product from the U.S. as we buy from them. If not, they get slapped with a tariff on the difference.
A tariff that targets trade imbalance, he said, would address the uncompetitive practices of countries such as China, where the Yuan is artificially lowered by 40 percent against the dollar.
“Give the guy down the street a 40-percent advantage on you and you’re screwed," Davis said.
On top of that, the Chinese government gives its own corporations tax breaks not available to U.S. manufacturers and labor is 1/20th the cost that in the United States.
The U.S. needs to level the playing field, Davis said.
"There are plenty of entrepreneurs left in this country," Davis said. "Right now they're spending money overseas, rather than in this county, but if given a level playing field, they will come back."
Bring up just about any topic with Davis, and the conversation soon turns back to jobs and fair trade.
Asked about how he could help counties such as Genesee address its crumbling infrastructure problem, he said the solution is jobs, just as it is for most of the problems in the United States.
"Obama shouldn’t be talking about cutting services and increasing taxes," Davis said. "He should be addressing this trade imbalance. We have about $2 billion per day going overseas. That’s our wealth going off shore. Until that’s addressed, we’re going to continue to have problems, problems with Social Security, problems with Medicare, problems with the budget, problems with the deficit."
And if that wealth continues to flow overseas, Davis said, eventually China is going to own the United States.
"I’m a patriot. I love America," Davis said. "I see what’s happening to it. I think what kind of future are we leaving our children? We’ve got a $14 trillion national debt, half of it’s owed to the Asians, and if we’re not manufacturing anything, we have no way to pay this debt, so they’re going to own America."
He says once the Chinese own all the multinational companies, they'll also own all the lobbyists in Washington.
“We already know (the government) is for sale to the highest bidder and the Chinese are going to have all the money," he said.
Davis came to his anti-unfettered trade position through 56 years of working in international trade, he said, and seeing more and more companies that he did business with shipping jobs overseas.
He didn't think, and still doesn't believe, that's a sustainable path for the United States.
And he doesn't buy the pro-free trade arguments that globalization of trade benefits the United States, too. The U.S. won't have anything to trade, he points out, if all of the manufacturing plants -- as 53,000 of them have already done -- keep shutting down.
In pointing to my iPhone, he raised the issue that even new technology depends on products manufactured in the United States. His heating elements are used not only for Gorilla Glass, but for manufacturing all sorts of flat glass, from window panes in skyscrapers to the windshields of cars as well as an essential tool for manufacturing solar cells.
The high-tech industry needs a strong manufacturing base in the United States to remain competitive globally.
"There was one guy, I think he was with the Commerce Department, who said there’s no difference between computer chips and potato chips and I’m like, 'Man, how stupid can you be?'" Davis said.
Davis believes both the Republicans and Democrats are selling out the United States. Both parties are beholding to the multinational corporations and even big labor -- traditionally a stalwart in the Democratic corner protecting American jobs -- has sold out the American worker. Their national leaders in Washington, he said, are more interested in organizing in foreign countries now.
"The managers for these large multinationals, they’re not loyal to America," Davis said. "They’re loyal to their stockholders and they’ll just take their business to the cheaper place to manufacture with no thought of American workers. They have all the advantages of being in America, but they’re not taking care of it."
Toward the end of our conversation, Davis talked more about the campaign.
He is disappointed most of all in the Republicans.
He said he registered Republican when he first could vote. He's voted for Eisenhower, Reagan and both Bushes. He's given the Republicans money, and now they just lie about him.
"To have them come after me so viciously and tell so many lies about me, it was a big, big disappointment," he said.
"I always thought they were the integrity party," he added. "They’re the party of the thugs. They even sent a thug after me." (A reference to Jane Corwin's chief of staff, Michael Mallia, harassing Davis following a veterans' event in Greece, allegedly calling the former Marine a "coward" (a charge the Corwin campaign has made no attempt to refute.))
But even as some polls show Davis losing ground and coming in third, he's not giving up the fight. It's too important to him. He clearly thinks he's needed in Washington to save American jobs, even if Washington doesn't seem to want him.
"The lobbyists, they don’t want me in Washington, because I’m going to make changes," Davis said. "When I get there, I’ll be one of 435, but I will probably have the biggest mouth. I’m going to call these people out and they don’t like that."
NOTE: We were previously privileged to have Kathy Hochul visit The Batavian. Jane Corwin has been invited numerous times but has pretty much ignored the invitation. Ian Murphy was invited, but said he didn't have a car to make the trip to Batavia.