To Reshore or Not to Reshore

The discussion over shifting manufacturing activities (specifically for electronics) from foreign countries to the United States has been going on for a couple of years. The notion of a large-scale relocation of manufacturing capacity is overblown, but several recent examples make it worthwhile to examine whether electronics manufacturers ought to reshore their manufacturing.

Motorola has announced that its latest smartphone will be manufactured in Fort Worth, Texas. It says the Moto X will be the first such device to be assembled in the US. Apple has confirmed that it will move some of its Mac production to Texas. And there are reports that Google Glass will be produced in America.

In a 2012 IPC survey (subscription required), 11 percent of electronics manufacturers in North America said they had brought operations back since 2009, and 20 percent said they had created operations there.

The case for moving manufacturing activities to the US (a process variously known as reshoring, onshoring, and nearshoring) was laid out in a 2011 Boston Consulting Group paper (registration required). The idea goes like this: Manufacturing costs are rising in Asia (particularly China) but leveling off in the US to the point where it may be just as advantageous, if not more so, to manufacture goods for North American consumption in the United States.

Industrial wages are a large part of the equation. In China, they are increasing 15-20 percent a year, but Chinese labor productivity is rising only 8 percent a year — not enough to match compensation gains. Meanwhile, the costs and risks associated with relying on extended supply chains are increasing. “Transpacific shipping rates are going up,” the BCG report said. “While ocean freight remains inexpensive, the doubling of bunker-fuel prices since early 2009 is causing rates to increase.”

In a July 5 radio interview, Harry Moser, president of the Reshoring Initiative, discussed the process of determining whether reshoring will improve profits and efficiency. “Instead of just looking at wages and per-piece prices, companies need to look at the total cost. That includes duties, freight costs, packaging, and factors like opportunity lost due to long lead times.”

Other costs that need to be considered include inventory carrying costs, intellectual property risks, and the costs associated with high levels of corruption in some presumably low-cost countries, he said. In all, 29 elements of cost need to be considered. “When you look at all these other costs, you see that offshore costs are not 30 percent lower but maybe five to 10 percent lower. When you apply techniques like better training, lean manufacturing, and automation, you can knock out that differential.”

Moser said as much as 25 percent of manufacturing capacity located elsewhere could be moved to the US. Others are skeptical of that claim.

As a Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago blog post suggested, a mass repatriation of manufacturing assets to the US would show up in an improvement in the US balance of payments, and we are not close to reaching that point yet.

“Shifting patterns of global trade and technological change make for a murky geographic landscape,” the article said. “But at the very least, some of the shifts underway will be toward U.S. domiciles rather than away from them.”

Where do you stand in the onshoring debate? Let's keep the conversation going in the comment section.

8 comments on “To Reshore or Not to Reshore

  1. Eric H. Miscoll
    October 8, 2013

    At Charlie Barnhart & Associates, we draw a distinction between “reshoring/onshoring” and “regionalization.”  We see reshoring/onshoring as more politically motivated terms that hold out hope that the jobs lost to China and other low cost regions will come flooding back to the United States.  Our data actually points to regionalization, or build in region for region, as the definitive trend in this industry.  The primary beneficiaries of this will be the low cost countries that exist in all regions, such as Mexico, Eastern Europe, and Thailand and Malaysia, to name a few.  Capacity utilization rates for electronics manufacturing are increasing in all of these areas.  Regionalization also means that business will continue to go into China, which has some of the best factories in the world, although people will hopefully be more selective in what they choose to send there.


    Deciding which geographic region offers the best business solution for your manufacturing based on a TCO (True Cost of Outsourcing) analysis is the best approach.  We recently released our TCO tool which allows for such analysis, quickly and based on elelctronics manufacturing industry data sets that we update quarterly. In many cases OEMs are surprised at how expensive low cost really is.

  2. Daniel
    October 8, 2013

    “Motorola has announced that its latest smartphone will be manufactured in Fort Worth, Texas. It says the Moto X will be the first such device to be assembled in the US”

    Peter, if am not wrong, Google has acquired the Smartphone wing of Motorola in 2012. So any Smartphone from Motorola means, it's from Google

  3. ahdand
    October 9, 2013

    @Jacob: Yes that is a valid point indeed. I think Motorola is trying to gain their market by promoting their name here but it's a 50-50 scenario for both Google and Motorola

  4. _hm
    October 9, 2013

    US has very urgent need for these jobs. Unemployment is very high and people has hgih hope from leaders. This will also bring better quality to product and society will also be regain its colorfulness.

    My ffear is unions and productivity of one and all. Also, salary expectation and long term benefit cost must be kept very low.


  5. Daniel
    October 9, 2013

    “Yes that is a valid point indeed. I think Motorola is trying to gain their market by promoting their name here but it's a 50-50 scenario for both Google and Motorola”

    Nimantha, I thing Google is playing a dual role with Motorola. While continuing its Smartphone market with Motorola brand, they are renaming the same as Nexus for Google mobile.

  6. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    October 25, 2013

    @Eric Thanks for the distinction, and the information. If you have a link for the TCO tool, why don't you share it with us? What are some of the elements that need to be considered in true cost of outsourcing that might often be missed?

  7. Eric H. Miscoll
    October 26, 2013



    Here is a link to a more detailed explanation of our TCO tool:


    Our TCO tool comprehends three distinct factors, all with multiple sub-factors that are embedded, which are:

    1.. Global Pricing for services purchased

    2.  OEM Internal Spend:  what OEMs spend internally to acquire and manage outsourced solution

    3.  Geographich risk associated with solution chosen


    Everyone focuses on the first element, but it is the second two that often tip the scales away from an LCR.

  8. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    October 27, 2013

    Thanks, Eric! Do you find that people are surprised by what they find out from the calculator? Or is it just a time saver?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.