By Sopan Deb
The United States may be on the verge of bringing back manufacturing jobs from China.
Harold Sirkin, along with Michael Zinser and Douglas Hohner (all experts from the Boston Consulting Group – a leading management consulting firm), says that outsourcing manufacturing to China is not as cheap as it used to be and that the United States is poised to bring back jobs from China. The three consultants first reached this conclusion in a recently published study titled “Made in America, Again: Why Manufacturing Will Return to the U.S.”
Many companies, especially in the auto and furniture industries, moved plants overseas once China opened its doors to free trade and foreign investment in the last few decades. Labor was cheaper for American companies – less than $1 per hour according to the BCG report. Today, labor costs in China have risen dramatically, and shipping and fuel costs have skyrocketed. As China’s economy has expanded, and China has built new factories all across the country, the demand for workers has risen. As a result, wages are up as new companies compete to hire the best workers.
“The tilt is now getting lower,” Sirkin says. “We think somewhere around 2015 it’ll look flat and may start to tilt in the U.S. favor at that point in time.”
By 2015, it will only be about 10 percent cheaper to manufacture in China.
“We have to recognize one thing,” Sirkin told NBC’s Harry Smith in an interview to air on Rock Center with Brian Williams. “The average Chinese worker is about a quarter as productive as the average U.S. worker.”
“It’ll be a major impact. Our projections are, when you take the manufacturing jobs and then the service jobs that get created alongside those, that we will add two to three million jobs to the U.S. workforce.”
The U.S. is already seeing examples of this – starting in Lincolnton, North Carolina.
Rock Center has been following Bruce Cochrane of Lincolnton Furniture as he brings his family business back to the U.S. and re-opens the family furniture plant. Cochrane was invited to the White House last week for a forum on job creation with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
“Now, you don't have be a big manufacturer to insource jobs,” Obama said. “Bruce Cochrane's family had manufactured furniture in North Carolina for five generations. But in 1996, as jobs began shifting to Asia, the family sold their business, and Bruce spent time in China and Vietnam as a consultant for American furniture makers. But while he was there, he noticed something he didn't expect: their consumers actually wanted to buy things made in America. So he came home and started a new company, Lincolnton Furniture, which operates out of the old family factories. He's even re-hired many of the former workers from his family business. “
According to BCG, another manufacturer, Sleek Audio, moved production of its headphones from Chinese suppliers to a plant in Florida. Ford Motor Company is bringing back 2,000 jobs from China after striking an agreement with the United Auto Workers. Sirkin says it’s good news for the economy even though wages will be lower in those jobs than they were previously.
Sirkin believes fears that United States manufacturing is in decline are overstated and notes that the U.S. is still a manufacturing giant. In 2010, China provided 19.8 percent of global manufacturing value added. The U.S. accounted for a marginally less 19.4 percent, which, according to Boston Consulting, was “a share that has declined only slightly over the past three decades.”