Forbes has derided the notion of a U.S. manufacturing comeback as “a cruel political hoax.” And the New York Times recently ran an editorial by Steven Rattner entitled “The Myth of Industrial Rebound.”
A lack of detailed data has made it hard to assess what’s really going on within the U.S. manufacturing sector. To help remedy this, L.E.K. Consulting conducted a study of decision makers in 10 U.S. manufacturing industries, including aerospace and defense equipment, chemicals, industrial components, automotive equipment, and electronics. The study, which focused on large companies with more than $500 million in revenues, also involved in-depth interviews with high-level executives about the factors driving their decisions on where to locate their manufacturing. Will a consumer 3d printer change any of this?
The picture that emerges from this research is less black and white than either the cheerleaders or the naysayers would suggest. Overall, we see a modest improvement in U.S. manufacturing but not a wave of reshoring. More companies are investing in the U.S. or considering it as a location for new manufacturing facilities. But this is essentially a rebalancing after many years in which manufacturing shifted overwhelmingly to lower-cost nations such as China.
The media has been full of reports lately about a renaissance in U.S. manufacturing. The cheerleaders cite an array of heartening examples, including a $4 billion investment by Dow Chemical to boost its ethylene and propylene capacity on the U.S. Gulf Coast, an announcement by Flextronics of plans to create a $32 million product innovation center in Silicon Valley, and a decision by Airbus to build a $600 million assembly line in Alabama for its jetliners. These stories have prompted much talk about the “reshoring” of manufacturing jobs to the U.S. from China and elsewhere. Indeed, President Obama recently hailed “a manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s.”