Here's an interesting article titled "Made in America: Small Businesses Buck the Offshoring Trend," about how some manufacturing is being brought back to the U.S. from China, especially for smaller American firms, because of: a) rising labor costs in China, b) inconsistent quality, c) shipping costs that have doubled in the last year (see chart above), and d) the lack of safeguards on intellectual property. Here are some key paragraphs from an article that suggests that America's manufacturing sector can look forward to a bright, dynamic and thriving future:
"For U.S. firms, the decision to manufacture overseas has long seemed a no-brainer. Labor costs in China and other developing nations have been so cheap that as recently as two or three years ago, anyone who refused to offshore was viewed as a dinosaur, certain to go extinct as bolder companies built the future in Asia. But stamping out products in Guangdong Province is no longer the bargain it once was, and U.S. manufacturing is no longer as expensive. As the labor equation has balanced out, companies—particularly the small to medium-size businesses that make up the innovative guts of America’s technology industry—are taking a long, hard look at the downsides of extending their supply chains to the other side of the planet.
When accounting giant KPMG International recently asked 196 senior executives to list their top concerns
for 2011 and 2012, labor costs ranked below product quality and fluctuations in shipping rates and currency values. And 19 percent of the companies that responded to an October survey by MFG.com
, an online sourcing marketplace, said they had recently brought all or part of their manufacturing back to North America from overseas, up from 12 percent in the first quarter of 2010. This is one reason U.S. factories managed to add 136,000 jobs last year—the first increase
in manufacturing employment since 1997 (see related CD post here
The U.S. certainly isn’t on the verge of recapturing its past industrial glory, nor can every business benefit by fleeing China. But those that actually build tangible goods should no longer assume that “Made in the USA” is an unaffordable luxury. Unless a company is hell-bent on selling the cheapest goods possible, manufacturing at home makes more sense than it has in a generation.
China’s big manufacturing advantage has been cheap labor, but wages—while still low compared with those in the U.S.—have risen sharply in recent years (see chart below).Manufacturing wages more than doubled in China between 2002 and 2008, and the value of the nation’s currency has risen steadily. It’s now under tremendous international pressure to let the yuan appreciate even more, and the country must cope with worrisome inflation at home (food prices rose by nearly 12 percent last year). And though Chinese workers still earn a fraction of what their American counterparts do, the rising costs of labor there are prompting companies to reevaluate their production strategies. Once they do, these businesses often realize something profound: China isn’t the great deal they expected."
"In dynamic systems such as supply chains, the tighter the connection between nodes, the lower the risk of something going haywire. That risk can be tolerated when the benefits of stretching the connections are too great to ignore. But when those benefits diminish, it’s time to consider building a system that is stable by design. And once America’s formidable innovation muscle is focused on keeping manufacturing nearby, new and inventive systems for reducing labor costs (see chart above)—without going overseas—will be developed quickly."