Was It the Market, or the Management?

A weekend story in the Boston Globe tries to portay the plight of Chinese-American workers who labored hard and long only to see the U.S. factory they worked in close — a turn of events on which the company executives blame … China.

The numbers quoted in the story are considerable: “Between 2003 and 2005, the value of printed circuit assemblies imported to the United States jumped from $949,771,000 to $1,204,289,000, according to trade figures cited by lawyers for the Advanced Electronics workers.

“During those same years, the value of printed circuit assemblies imported here from China alone spiked from $167,924,000 to $248,585,000, according to those same figures.”

Intrigued, I looked up the numbers on the ITC Website. What I found was that the Customs value of the PCA imports from China rose from $3.5 billion in 2003 to $5.3 billion in 2005. (The ITC pegs the overall import value of electronics assemblies at $23.5 billion in 2005.) So there’s a discrepancy and if anything, Advanced Electronics is undervaluing the market.

Either way, the data quoted reveal only part of the story, however. Indeed, during the same time, U.S. electronics businesses have actually done quite well. Domestic EMS firms started climbing out of the gutter in 2003, according to data from Technology Forecasters, and grew about 7% in 2003 and 20% in 2004 before slipping to “just” 14% in 2005.

I don’t have any particular knowledge of Advanced Electronics’ situation. That said, I would suggest that from this vantage point the problem had to do less with competition from China than it did from competition — and perhaps, the wrong strategy? — in the U.S.

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (pcea.net). He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow