Why Manufacturing Isn’t Coming Back to the US

by Christopher Paul on January 21, 2012

From The NY Times:

While some politicians often like to pick at Apple as their choice target for why America’s middle class is suffering, the fact of the matter is manufacturing isn’t coming back. The NY Times does point this out.

“Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.”

The article really sums it up in other paragraphs so read through the whole thing (it’s short by my standards, anyway). In case you don’t want to, I can sum it up for you.

  1. Prefabbed facilities (without contractual commitments)
  2. Speed in execution
  3. Reduced reengineering & retooling time
  4. Nearly 24/day production
  5. Reduced production costs & miscellaneous value adds
  6. Volume of resources (labor)
  7. Lack of properly skilled resources (labor)

Some of those might seem hard to believe. Surely there are skilled workers in the US? Yes, there are. But enough of them that can make 10,000 iPhones within days of retooling a major component of the phone? I doubt it.

It’s a complicated situation. The Times rightly points out Apple’s contribution to the middle class can’t be measured by jobs alone – entire industries have propped up because of their success. Service jobs are in more demand, unions complicate the working conditions and labor costs (and for good moral reason which China is often accused of ignoring), and the US just doesn’t have the same number of people eligible for employment.

I don’t know if I or anyone smarter than I can have a complete solution. But Steve Job’s quote about those jobs never coming back is most likely true for a while. But I don’t know why they need to? It’s natural for shifts to take place and, over time, things will balance out. But it will be sometime before the US gets Apple and other electronic manufacturers to move those jobs back to the US.

Thanks to Dare Obasanjo for tweeting about this NY Times article and thanks to Joel Mathis for retweeting it.

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