Moving Production Back to the USA -- The Better Business Strategy for US Manufacturers?

A new book by Tim Hutzel and Dave Lippert titled Bringing Jobs Back to the USA: Rebuilding America’s Manufacturing through Reshoring was published this month. This book continues the theme of their first book, Keeping Your Business in the U.S.A.: Profit Globally While Operating Locally.

As many US businesses have relocated operations to different parts around the world for supposedly cheaper labor costs and materials, I asked Tim and Dave why should a US company now consider reshoring and reestablishing its manufacturing back in the USA? Here is Tim and Dave’s response:

Some reasons may stem from the original motivation to offshore. Was it strictly cost? If so, what costs were considered? In many cases, the labor cost was the driving force. If that is the case, then looking at the current offshore labor costs, as well as the near term labor cost trend, may paint a very different picture from the original. The rapidly rising middle class in China is eliminating that country’s labor cost advantage.

Another cost is transportation. Energy costs have increased markedly from the days when many companies began their offshoring operations. This is another development that may make domestic manufacture appealing.

Travel costs and time spent coordinating with offshored production are trackable and must be included. While travel costs are calculable, the opportunity costs are probably ignored. That is, could executives traveling to offshored locations be using that travel time in much more productive ways? Also, could the staff time spent dealing with offshore production issues, including complicated logistics, be more productively spent on other matters?

There are also hidden costs that burden the offshoring company in ways it fails to recognize. Scrap and rework can be immense and also unpredictable costs. Do batches of product arrive and sometimes need rework? When that happens, are those costs tracked accurately and reflected in the actual cost of the imported product? What about outages – are there times when product is en route, and stock outages occur prior to arrival? What is the cost of an unhappy customer? Are customers driven to competitors’ products? That can be an unacceptable cost. It can also be difficult or even impossible to measure.

Is the cost of stocking large inventories completely and accurately covered? To avoid outages, extra stock may be kept and stored. Is stock sometimes damaged, or even lost, and are those costs captured? Is a heavily stocked product susceptible to obsolescence through design changes?

Perhaps the most difficult costs to identify are those that result from the distance between production and design/engineering. Are product improvement opportunities lost due to the disconnect between these two entities? Are there quality problems that result in substandard product, which can lead to lost market share? How can such subjective or camouflaged costs be measured, even though they are very real? Sadly, we are convinced that costs like these have been left out of the offshoring equation for many companies. 

What do you think of Tim and Dave's points? Do you think that the era of US companies locating their operations offshore because of supposed cheaper costs are drawing to a close?