We try to be good Americans and buy stuff made in the U.S.A. Well, maybe some of us do. The exporting of U.S. manufacturing has been going on for so long and is so entrenched that it’s anything but simple to bring those jobs back home. In fact, it’s nearly impossible. As the prime example, consider consumer electronics.
Phil Baker has made his living in product development and foreign manufacturing. He’s helped clients such as Hewlett-Packard, Williams-Sonoma and Apple set up manufacturing in the Far East. He writes a blog at techspertsinc.com.
In a recent piece “Why can’t the US build consumer electronic products?” he profiles the Chinese city Shenzhen. In the past thirty years, Shenzhen has morphed from a dirty, backward town making cheap consumer goods into “…the world capital of consumer electronics manufacturing.” Now, Hyatt, Hilton Westin and other high-end western hotels host droves of Silicon Valley project managers and engineers. Shenzhen is a modern city of more than ten-million people.
The manufacturing process is so overwhelmingly in the Far East, that it’s impossible to make high-tech products in the U.S. Baker gives the example of Motorola’s attempt to build smartphones in Texas. Virtually all the parts needed for the phones were made in China. The supply line is weeks by boat, tying up dollars in inventory that’s on the water. If there is a problem with a part in Shenzhen, the factory may be an hour away and the problem quickly addressed. In the U.S. the assembly could be shut down for weeks. Labor cost and perceived work ethic aside, building electronics in the United States just doesn’t work.