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Manufacturing Shift to U.S. Accelerates

Posted on September 25, 2013

The number of American manufacturing companies looking to shift production from China to the United States has doubled since 2012, according to a new study from The Boston Consulting Group.

ManufacturingThe study found that 54 percent of U.S.-based manufacturing executives at companies with sales greater than $1 billion are planning to “re-shore” production, or are considering it, up from 37 percent who responded to a similar survey in February 2012. When asked whether they expect to move production in light of rising wages in China, 21 percent of respondents”around twice as many as in 2012″said they are “actively doing this” or that they “will move production to the U.S. in the next two years.”

The new survey, conducted last month, is based upon responses from more than 200 decision makers at companies across a broad range of industries. Virtually all of the companies manufacture in the U.S. and overseas and make products for both U.S. and non-U.S. consumption.

The Boston Consulting study is consistent with a developing consensus among economists that rising wages overseas and the need for tighter control of supply chains is prompting manufacturers to boost their production in the United States. The 2012 U.S. Re-shoring Survey by the MIT Forum for Supply Chain Innovation similarly found that manufacturers are taking another look at domestic production due to higher labor costs in developing countries, energy costs, political stability issues, and time-to-market concerns.

The trend is good news for Massachusetts, where “manufacturing is alive and well, and has a healthy future,” according to a report last year entitled Staying Power II: A Report Card on Manufacturing in Massachusetts, by Professor Barry Bluestone and his team at Northeastern University.

Some key findings of the report about Massachusetts manufacturing:

  • Manufacturing employment has stabilized after a sharp decline during the recession;
  • Manufacturing is the state’s six-largest employment sector ” and the second-largest (after health care) in terms of payroll;
  • Manufacturing’s share of gross state product has risen for the past two years, to 12.2 percent;
  • The number of manufacturing firms increased in 2011 for the first time in decades;
  • Manufacturing is more technologically intense than ever; in 1970 employment in low-tech sectors was twice that in high-tech; in 2006 they were equal, and by 2010 high-tech was 27 percent larger;
  • Most Massachusetts manufacturing companies are small and family-owned;
  • The manufacturing workforce is more diverse than the overall state workforce; and
  • Although most jobs in manufacturing are now “white collar,” only about one position in five requires a college degree

While cost issues and global competition are challenges, the study finds, the skills and work ethic of the state’s workforce are powerful reasons to stay in Massachusetts. But employers are already experiencing difficulty in hiring skilled workers, and an upcoming wave of retirements will create up to 100,000 job vacancies over the next ten years. The 70 percent of manufacturing firms foreseeing expansion of employment over the next five years must face up to this “recruitment challenge” by focusing on workforce development and promoting manufacturing careers. 

The Boston Consulting Group projects that production reshored from China and higher exports due to improved U.S. competitiveness in manufacturing could create 2.5 million to 5 million American factory and related service jobs by 2020.

“Over the past couple of years, we’ve projected an improvement in U.S. manufacturing competitiveness by 2015 that would help drive an American manufacturing revival,” said Harold L. Sirkin, a BCG senior partner. “The results of our latest survey make clear that a profound shift in attitude is beginning.”