Rising labor costs in China and other emerging economies, high supply chain and logistics costs, and wide differentials in energy costs in different parts of the world are provoking a fresh round of relocation of manufacturing and production. While some labor-intensive jobs are moving out of China to Southeast Asia or the next emerging low-cost regions, some manufacturing work is also returning to the United States. Wal-Mart is facilitating reshoring efforts among its suppliers, and consultants are offering reshoring conferences, reports and lots of advice.
While the data on comparative labor and factor costs may be compelling, reshoring — bringing assembly work back from abroad — is hard work, notes author Willy C. Shih. This is especially true when needed resources (the supplier base, the workforce and even the company’s own internal product design capabilities) have atrophied. Shih studied several initiatives aimed at rebuilding regional capacity in the United States (including at GE’s Appliance Park in Kentucky and two Flextronics International plants in Texas) and other examples in Europe and Asia to identify lessons about what works.
The benefits were no surprise. Placing manufacturing close to the market minimizes inventory in the pipeline, reduces delivery times and shortens ordering cycles. The challenges were less apparent: the need to stabilize the workforce, address skill gaps, rethink the capital/labor ratio, localize the supply base and rethink product design to leverage the proximity to manufacturing.
In many ways, Shih writes, the challenges of reshoring to the United States are the challenges of reshoring in any market in the world. Managers must design supply chains for the production of goods that balance proximity to diverse markets with the locations of their capabilities and their supply ecosystems. Doing that well, Shih argues, will always be a source of competitive advantage.