A good example is evident in the television manufacturing arena. In the late 1950’s there were 90 companies making television sets in the US. By 1995 there was one, Zenith Electronics Corporation, and they sold controlling interest and manufacture to South Korea. But, by then, our supply chains had begun to crumble with the outsource mentality. Everything from integrated circuits to automobiles was coming from other countries. But, we also caused some of the migration of manufacturing. Consumers wanted more selection and lower prices for goods. And, our tax code for businesses was costing twice what other countries were offering. So, it became more profitable for business to outsource and operate from other locations. But, the pendulum is swinging back again to some extent. China, the largest exporter to the US by far, is becoming a victim of its own success. As they have moved up the economic scale, so have their companies, and it is costing more to do business as they are pressured by the upcoming middle class to pay higher wages and lose profit. And, it seem as though Americans are sick of the trade imbalance and reliance on cheap, sometimes defective products.
It is apparent that we have the desire to manufacture again, but it is not clear if we can re-design the paradigm. I see several problems that will have to be overcome to be makers again.
Element Electronics based in Minnesota started producing large screen televisions in Detroit in 2012. The caveat is that they are assembled here. The components still have to be imported. So, to be successful we have to rebuild the supply chains from electronic parts to steel. The work force has to be supplied that has the technical ability needed to support efficient and profitable US products. We will never again see lines of people assembling widgets and consumer goods. We will stay firmly in the automation and digital age and need well-trained workers. And what about quality? In my lifetime I have never seen so many automobile recalls! Not only American but all of the foreign companies as well. W. Edward Deming, the father of quality control would be ashamed to see his ideas so blatantly ignored.
Finally, we need to build products like battleships that can be repaired. We have to get out of this dispose, recycle, and re-buy mentality. It will be a pitiful epitaph that says “Here lays a civilization built on junk”! We can do better…