Should You Move Your Production Back to the US?

In the outsourcing craze, there was a mad rush to move manufacturing to China and services to India. In the latter case, with the rising costs in the big, mature, outsourcing centers, it’s now cheaper to open call centers and back-office shops on home soil in the US and UK than to move them to India, where they are so desperate for talent that they are now hiring Americans in America to fulfill American outsourcing agreements. In the former, the price of production, especially with logistics costs and a weakening American dollar, is rising monthly. For some industries, it may soon be cheaper to produce at home, if it isn’t already. Especially when the total lifetime cost of ownership is taken into account.

Consider this recent article in Fortune which notes how some American businesses, fed up with the poor quality of having their products made in China, are moving production back to the US. In why we left our factories in China, we find out that Sleek Audio, a small business that makes in-ear headphones for iPods and other audio devices, fed up with low quality, too much travel, communications problems, shipping delays, rising costs, and — worst of all — a ruined shipment of 10,000 sets of earphones that cost millions and nearly brought the company to its knees, decided to quit China and move manufacturing back to the US. Their up-front costs are about 15% to 20% higher on-shore, but since they are now able to produce a higher-end product (that can command a higher price), they can justify the cost.

Now it’s true that some companies get great prices and great quality from Chinese factories, but the reality is that these are usually the large multi-nationals that can afford to have someone on the ground full-time to oversee production. If you can afford to oversee production and insure your production runs get the appropriate timing, priority, and quality checks that you need, you can get good quality. But if you don’t have someone on the ground full time, then you may not even realize there is a problem until the next day as most small operations don’t have a phone manned at 2 AM. And since your production run is usually squeezed between bigger ones, there may not be much attention paid to quality or other issues important to you.

In other words, if you’re a Global 3000 multi-national, then it’s likely that production in China still makes sense for the organization for the time being, but if you’re a small or mid-sized manufacturer, it might be time to pull production back home — especially with the economic incentives being offered by many states to revitalize the economy.