Three Ways to Bring Manufacturing Back to America

The much-ballyhooed “in-sourcing” trend is real enough. But it won’t amount to much unless Washington acts.

Via Washington Monthly

In January 2012, President Barack Obama convened nineteen CEOs and business leaders at a White House forum to tout a potentially promising new phenomenon: instead of “shipping jobs overseas,” U.S. companies were bringing them back. “[W]hat these companies represent is a source of optimism and enormous potential for the future of America,” Obama said. “What they have in common is that they’re part of a hopeful trend: they are bringing jobs back
to America.”

Anecdotally, the record is impressive. A number of major companies—including some of the same firms that first took flak for “offshoring” jobs to China—are now expanding their manufacturing operations stateside. General Electric, for example, says it has created 16,000 new U.S. jobs since 2009, including jobs at a new locomotive plant in Fort Worth, Texas; a solar panel factory in Aurora, Colorado; and an engine manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania. The company’s recent revival of Appliance Park, in Louisville, Kentucky, as a maker of high-end refrigerators, was the subject of high-profile coverage, including a recent piece in the Atlantic.

Other companies that have seemingly caught the “reshoring” wave are appliance maker Whirlpool (which rejected sites in Mexico in favor of Tennessee), and iconic brands like Intel, Canon, Caterpillar, and DuPont. All of these firms have reported expanding or building new U.S. facilities in the last few years. In December 2012, computing giant Apple announced it would bring some Mac production back to America, investing about $100 million to do so.

So given these recent wins, can “insourcing” save America’s economy?

No. And yes. On one hand, insourcing is unlikely to be the magic elixir for a job market that’s only slowly gaining steam more than three years after the official end of the Great Recession. Only some jobs are coming back, and not in nearly large enough numbers to reverse the overall decline in U.S. manufacturing employment. While manufacturing gained about 530,000 jobs between January 2010 and December 2012, America is still 7.5 million manufacturing jobs down from its last peak in 1979. Even if reshoring picks up steam, manufacturing employment is unlikely to recapture the heights of the 1950s, when more than one in three employed Americans worked the line.

Nevertheless, policymakers should encourage insourcing as much as possible, even if net job growth might be a fraction of what’s been lost. At stake is something much broader—America’s future capacity for innovation.

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

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