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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Repatriating U.S. Jobs from China : A Pipe Dream ?

Not so, says Brendan I. Koerner in a recent WIRED article that should be required reading in corporate board rooms and executive suites, and that's entitled, ' Made in America: Small Businesses Buck the Offshoring Trend'.  Some excerpts follow..

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For US 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 US 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.

“Companies are looking to base their decisions on more than just costs,” says Simon Ellis, head of supply-chain strategies practice at IDC Manufacturing Insights, a market research firm. “They’re looking to shorten lead times, to reduce the inventory they have to carry.” 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 US factories managed to add 136,000 jobs last year—the first increase in manufacturing employment since 1997.

The US 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.

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