LEADERSHIP | 12/07/2012 –
One way President Obama acquired a reputation for being “hostile to business” was his propensity to pose awkward questions to business leaders. In February 2011, for instance, in the middle of a breakfast with the titans of Silicon Valley, President Obama declined to offer the kind of adulation to which these warrior gods of the C-suite have become accustomed. Instead, he interrupted Steve Jobs, the legendary CEO of Apple, and asked what it would take to make iPhones in the United States.
“Those jobs are gone,” Jobs is said to have snapped back, like a professor to a student who hadn’t done his homework, “And they’re not coming back.”
Sadly, Steve Jobs himself is now gone, but it turns out that some of the manufacturing jobs that were systematically shipped overseas for several decades—in the process, devastating US manufacturing and the US economy—are now coming back to America. Admittedly, the return flow is still a trickle, compared to the flood of industries that have been abandoned to other countries. What took decades to lose can’t be rebuilt overnight. But the signs are undeniable. US manufacturing is making something of a comeback.
The return of manufacturing
Tim Cook, Jobs’s successor as CEO of Apple, announced in an interview with Brian Williams on NBC last night that Apple will resume manufacturing in the US next year. “Next year,” he said, “we will do one of our existing Mac lines in the United States.” Cook told BusinessWeek that Apple plans to spend $100 million on manufacturing in the US in 2013.
Similarly, GE is spending some $800 million, according to Charles Fishman in a great article in The Atlantic, to re-establish manufacturing in its giant facility—until recently, almost defunct—at Appliance Park, in Louisville, Kentucky. In February 2012, GE opened an all-new assembly line to make cutting-edge, low-energy water heaters. In March 2012, GE started a second assembly line to make new high-tech French-door refrigerators. Another assembly line is under construction make a new stainless-steel dishwasher starting in early 2013. “I don’t do that because I run a charity,” Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, said at a public event in September. “I do that because I think we can do it here and make more money.”
GE and Apple are not alone. Fishman reports that Whirlpool is bringing mixer-making back from China to Ohio. Otis is bringing elevator production back from Mexico to South Carolina. And Wham-O is bringing Frisbee-molding back from China to California.