As part of his Make America Great Again campaign, Trump is preaching Buy American. If you want to fall in line, then you have to Buy American. But you can’t Buy American without American manufactured goods, of which there are not enough to go around if everyone wants to Buy American as so much manufacturing was outsourced over the years.
And even if you don’t want to fall in line with Trump, you might still want to Buy American because if Trump continues to raise import tariffs on a whole host of goods, you might want to Buy American just because the costs of not doing so are getting too high. Either way, if more companies want to Buy American, then we need to bring back American Made.
And if we are to return to “American Made”, that’s going to mean an awful lot of restoring. And, unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Why?
Our Factories our Out of Date
You can’t just bring in a cleaning crew and restart a 20 year old factory overnight. By now, anything of value of moveable size that wasn’t already looted is probably broken or rusted. But even fixing everything up is not enough. Technology has moved on, and so has the production lines for that technology — and right now all the new production lines exist in China, not the United States, as a result of all of the production moving there and Chinese factories investing in the infrastructure necessary to make new products. In many industries, we need completely new or fully overhauled factories to start producing American Made products again, and these factories are not going to be built or revamped over night.
Our Workforce is Unskilled
You can’t just un-retire the workforce, or at least the workforce still of working age. First of all, if a plant has been shut down for two decades, any workers who are still young enough to come back full time would be in their late 40s or 50s now and would have been late 20s or early 30s then. These would have been the junior line engineers, not the senior line engineers or plant managers. As a result, they wouldn’t even have had half of the skills you’re looking for when they retired. And since technology has moved ahead 20 years, and they haven’t kept up (as they had no reason to without an appropriate job), they know less than kids in college. The workforce has to be retrained.
Our Logistics Have to be Rethought
This is not as big of an issue, but right now all of the carriers have lanes optimized for getting goods from ports to common warehouse locations, not from factories in busy industrial parks, or, more likely, on the outskirts of big cities to your warehouses on the outskirts of other big cities. You need to redesign your logistics and so do they. But the good news is that with the right re-design, and freight optimization, they’d have less empty lanes as, right now, they have a lot of full lanes from ports to warehouse districts and empty lanes back. Now they’d have full lanes from industrial parks with factories to other industrial parks with warehouses that also have nearby factories they can pick up from and so on.
Our Labour Costs are Much Higher
So not only do we have to overhaul our factories, but we have to insure we adopt the most efficient technologies that allow our workers to be as productive as possible for every hour they work. And we have to focus on lean process design and lean manufacturing to ensure that there is no waste in the process. That’s the only way a company can really compensate for the higher labour (and sometimes energy and overhead costs in general) that comes with American Made. One has to remember that even though a lot of consumers want to buy American, just like they want to buy sustainable, they are only willing to pay so much of a premium.
This is not to say that you should not reshore. You absolutely should. the doctor has been preaching the value of home-sourcing for a decade! However, you have to do it smart and to get it right, you will have to start slow. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.