We keep hearing about how manufacturing is making a resurgence in North America, and in the US in particular. After decades of having jobs move to countries where the labor was far cheaper, the tide is finally beginning to turn.
I see examples of this resurgence on a regular basis. Just look at Flextronics, a manufacturing powerhouse that is now building smartphones in Texas (at the first large-scale US cell-phone production facility); Apple, who will start building components for its iPods and iPhones in Arizona; and the bevy of automakers (even traditional foreign companies) who are designing and manufacturing components and (obviously) complete cars in the US. Even Airbus employs more than 1,200 people in Alabama to handle the final assembly of its 320 family.
We here at Design News, and at UBM Canon (the group that Design News belongs to, as does the Pacific Design & Manufacturing tradeshow) will be celebrating this phenomenon at our upcoming Golden Mousetrap/North American Design and Manufacturing Awards ceremony. We will have a few folks on hand who either have opened facilities in the US or are in the process of doing so. They will share their experiences and explain why it was absolutely the right decision to open manufacturing facilities in the US.
According to a report released by the National Fluid Power Association (NFPA), manufacturing employment in the US is up 0.5% from a year ago and is at its highest level in four years (although it’s still 16% below the mid-2000s level and 32% below that of the late 1990s). We may be hard-pressed to get back to those higher numbers of 15 or so years ago, but there’s a reason for that. Improvements in automation technologies, including robots and mechatronics in general, have simply reduced the need for many jobs. Another good indicator is that the export of goods from the US is up 2.1% from last year.
The report claims that a key advantage to manufacturing here in the states has to do with energy prices. “During the first quarter of 2013, US natural gas prices were nearly four times cheaper than those seen in Europe, and nearly $5/MMBtu less expensive than prices in China.” That’s pretty significant and doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. Do not be surprised if there’s a factory being built somewhere in your home state.