In a sharp reversal, more large manufacturers that are planning to add production capacity for goods consumed in the U.S. say that they will add that capacity in the U.S. than in any other country.
Thirty-one percent of respondents to The Boston Consulting Group’s fourth annual survey of senior manufacturing executives at companies with at least $1 billion in annual revenues said that their companies are most likely to add production capacity in the U.S. within five years for goods sold in the U.S., while 20% said they are most likely to add capacity in China. (More details about the survey can be found on SlideShare.) Asked the same question in 2013, 30% of respondents said that China was the mostly likely destination for new capacity devoted to serving the U.S. market, while only 26% said capacity would be added in the U.S. The survey is part of continuing BCG research into the impact of the shifting economics of global manufacturing.
Moreover, the share of executives saying that their companies are actively reshoring production increased by 9% since 2014 and by about 250% since 2012. This suggests that companies that were considering reshoring in previous years are now taking action. By a two-to-one margin, executives said they believe that reshoring will help create U.S. jobs at their companies rather than lead to a net loss of jobs.
“These findings underscore how significantly U.S. attitudes toward manufacturing in America seem to have swung in just a few years,” said Harold L. Sirkin, a BCG senior partner and a coauthor of the firm’s series on the shifting economics of global manufacturing, which was launched in 2011. “We are seeing more evidence of an American manufacturing renaissance.”
This year’s survey also confirmed that factors such as logistics, inventory costs, ease of doing business, and the risks of operating extended supply chains are weighing heavily in executives’ decisions to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. Seventy-six percent of respondents reported that a primary reason for reshoring production of goods sold in the U.S. was to “shorten our supply chain,” while 70% cited reduced shipping costs and 64% said “to be closer to customers.”
“The fundamental economic forces that are prompting many companies to reassess their global manufacturing footprint have not changed,” said Michael Zinser, a BCG senior partner and a coleader of the firm’s global Manufacturing practice. “Given the big differences in wage growth and productivity—and the greater attention companies are paying to total cost—there is good reason to believe that the cost-competitiveness of the U.S. compared with China and many other major export economies will continue to improve in the near term.”
The decreasing costs and improved capabilities of advanced manufacturing technologies such as robotics also make manufacturing in the U.S. more attractive than in economies whose chief advantage is cheap labor. Fifty-six percent of respondents said that lower automation costs have improved the competitiveness of U.S.-made products compared with similar goods sourced from low-cost countries. Seventy-one percent said advanced manufacturing technologies will improve the economics of local production, and 75% said they will invest in additional automation or advanced manufacturing technologies in the next five years.
Even though they plan to invest more in automation, manufacturing executives indicated that reshoring is still likely to create new U.S. manufacturing jobs. Fifty percent of respondents said they expect that U.S. manufacturing employment by their companies will increase by at least 5% over the next five years as a result of reshoring; 27% predicted a job increase of at least 10%.
Although the core indicators of U.S. competitiveness remain strong, recent turbulence in the global economic environment—such as collapsing energy prices and massive swings in exchange rates—have given some executives pause. The 2015 survey shows that executives believe that the U.S. will account for a slightly lower portion of their companies’ global production capacity than they indicated in 2014. The ratio of those projecting net job increases versus net job losses, while still two to one in favor of increases, also declined since the 2014 survey, which found a three-to-one ratio in favor of job creation.
The underlying drivers of this hesitance go beyond global macroeconomic volatility and include factors such as concerns about rising U.S. health-care costs, federal and local regulatory uncertainty, increases in the U.S. minimum wage, and unclear progress on tax reform. Such concerns are causing manufacturers to reassess their long-term manufacturing strategies.
“Although interest in reshoring remains strong, this year’s findings indicate that a number of companies are still holding back,” said Justin Rose, a BCG partner who, along with Sirkin and Zinser, is a coauthor of The U.S. Manufacturing Renaissance: How Shifting Global Economics Are Creating an American Comeback (Knowledge@Wharton, 2012). “This reinforces the fact that the U.S. can’t simply rest on positive global macroeconomic trends if it is to fully capture the opportunities created by the shifting economies of global manufacturing.”