Moving labor to cheaper countries like China has been going on for decades, but there has been a trend to bring some of that labor back to the United States. Initially, it seemed as if there were benefits for both countries: workers had jobs and could feed their families in the less labor-expensive countries, and consumers in the U.S. could pay lower prices for products and services they wanted as a result.
For the past few years, however, onshoring labor back to the United States has become more popular.
According to Joe A. Hollingsworth, Jr. of the Hollingsworth Companies, “manufacturing output accounted for 19% of the economy [in the U.S.] in 2000; and, as of 2012, it has hovered around 11%.”This large drop in manufacturing done in America caused factories to shut down and sometimes even entire communities to just about dry up.
The reason for the change, according to Hollingsworth, is that American manufacturing is becoming more competitive compared to that in developing countries. The gap of what it costs to produce something in China compared to the U.S. has been decreasing. When you look at factors like supply chain interruption due to events like weather, strikes, etc., having a manufacturing plant in the U.S. does seem more attractive in some important regards.
Additionally, the lower costs of energy in the U.S. with the rise of fracking and natural gas has made the U.S. more competitive. Another important factor is that the productivity of American workers has increased in recent years, 30% from 1997 to 2008, according to Hollingsworth.
Onshoring has also become more popular because quality control can be difficult to regulate in foreign environments. Companies have to constantly send employees over to countries where manufacturing takes place to check on quality control, and the number and type of stories that indicate that all is not what it seems on the surface has helped increase the onshoring trend.
Wages have actually increased in developing countries as well. According to The Atlantic, “wages in China are some five times what they were in 2000—and they are expected to keep rising 18 percent a year.”
Additionally, unions in the U.S. are changing their priorities. They aren’t as focused on striking and are more focused on negotiating.
One example of the onshoring trend is GE’s Appliance Park in Louisville, Kentucky. It was largely abandoned in recent years, after its 1950s and 1960s heyday. Recently, some of its lines have reopened, making water heaters and dishwashers, among other products.
However, some are still waiting for the “help wanted” signs to appear. The factories are moving back to the United States, but many are waiting for the factories to actually open and to start hiring more workers.