‘The Era of Offshoring US Jobs Is Over’ … or Is It?

That’s what the US Trade Representative says in an editorial in the New York Times today. And he gets the drivers right, mostly. But the results? “The United States lost five million manufacturing jobs. That, in turn, devastated towns and contributed to the breakdown of families, an opioid epidemic and despair.”

That’s just a crazy extrapolation. The US was at 3.1% unemployment prior to Covid-19.

Repeat after me: There. Were. More. Jobs. Than. Qualified. Workers.

For two decades, the no. 1 complaint I’ve heard from US business owners is the lack of manufacturing talent. Even in times of higher unemployment rates (the last two months notwithstanding), managers consistently noted the lack of basic communication and math skills among the workers available.

In his op-ed, USTR Robert Lighthizer adds, “If you want certainty, bring your plants back to America.”

It’s not that simple. You need the whole supply chain. And you need an end-market. The US, at 327 million people, isn’t big enough to sustain a company of any real size; those firms must be able to sell into other (larger) markets too.

And all those other big markets (China, Brazil, EU, etc.) have their own “make local” requirements and incentives.

I wish Lighthizer were right. But I’ll say it again: The US does not have enough worker talent to handle manufacturing at the cost necessary to satisfy the US market.


Onshoring has become the word of the moment, the expression of hope, the exposure of wishful thinking to those who try to intepret relatively small onshoring activities as major moves for job and economic recovery.

Flextronics CEO Mike McNamara pointed out in an interview with Larry Dignan of ZDNet, “As you see things that get pushed back into the US, “a la” the (recent) Apple comment it is more than just having the right cost structure. You also have to design for more automation and more different kinds of productivity. So, it is an evolution; it is not just flipping a switch. You actually have to spend a lot of work in the design, all the way through to the manufacturing process, knowing where you are going to manufacture. I think it is going to take time.”

It will not only take time, it will take incentives from the government. If Taiwan can do it, why can’t America do it? A major lure could be the lowering of one of the world’s highest corporate tax rates. Another would be to remove or simplify many of the “make-do” reporting procedures and requirements that seem to do nothing but tie a company’s hands, increase costs, and create more public sector jobs.

Taiwan’s new reinvestment incentives began last month, with an aggressive goal of more than doubling the returning investment from overseas Taiwanese businesses to $6.89 billion over the next two years. Companies need to meet certain requirements, such as producing critical components or marketing products under their own brand. Taiwan’s government announced on Dec. 6 that Catcher Technology and Largan Precision will invest in new factories in Taiwan that will create some 3,800 jobs over the next few years.

Foxconn Moves Intriguing

There is a lot of speculation regarding Apple’s stated intent to build a manufacturing site in the US. This is not a major move. Only 200 jobs will be created. I cannot help but wonder if this is related to Foxconn’s (Apple’s major supply-chain device manufacturer) recent offer to help train Americans in manufacturing technologies. Is there a greater strategy about to be implemented? Is it the precursor to a potentially much larger move as costs continue to rise in China? America is still the major market for Apple where new products are introduced. Do Tim Cook and Terry Gou have a larger strategic plan? As Sherlock might say to Watson, “Methinks a new game is afoot.”

The November contraction of the US manufacturing sector does not bode well for the domestic electronics industry. According to the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), the index declined to the lowest level in three years, as national factory activity fell to 49.5% in November from 51.7% in October. Expectations had been for a level of 51.3%. Levels below 50% indicate a contraction. These figures are reflected in recent IPC book-to-bill ratios. The news in Japan is also discouraging for that nation’s interconnect industries. The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry showed negative growth for the country’s electronic industry in September. Not only is board production dropping, but so are board prices. Panasonic and Sharp have lost market share and are experiencing heavy losses, according to DKN Research. JX Nippon Oil & Energy (a major metal and oil supplier) has decided to close its PV silicon wafer business due to extreme global price competition. Uncertainty seems to reign everywhere. Many strategists are now working on improving efficiencies, finding new markets, and a resumption of growth in 2013.

For Americans, too? More cooperative activities reducing redundancy is needed between the IPC and the EIPC.

The EIPC made following announcement on Dec. 3: The EIPC has made an effort to provide the latest information on Standards for PCBs from Japan. The 4th edition was released at the JPCA Show in June 2011. The EIPC is encouraging the specialists in the European Electronic Industry to learn the knowledge that has been accumulated by the Japan Electronics Packaging and Circuits Association (JPCA) and documented in the Standard on Device Embedded Substrate Terminology Reliability Test/Design Guide Edition 4.0- JPCA-EB01 (2011) The English version of the document is on stock at the EIPC office in Maastricht, The Netherlands.