Is Manufacturing Homeward Bound?
- Oct 04, 2012
Manufacturing activity and industrial employment are projected to grow in the United States over the next 10 years, according to a recent forward-looking study of corporate workplace and real estate trends, resulting in a moderate recovery of the national industrial sector.
CoreNet Global found in its Corporate Real Estate 2020 study that 51 percent of corporate real estate asset managers either agreed or strongly agreed that there would be a rebound in domestic manufacturing from offshore locations. The recovery would be propelled both by companies bringing manufacturing plants and jobs back to the United States and those choosing not to offshore in the first place, they said.
“It may seem paradoxical, but in a global economy, we will see more regional manufacturing plants, and the U.S. will get more than its fair share,” explained Dennis Donovan, principal with site location firm WDG Consulting, a participant in the CRE 2020 research. ”American manufacturing output will be substantially strengthened by three dimensions of new investment: technology, cost compression and supply chain.”
Fifteen to 20 years ago, when domestic costs were on the rise in the United States, many major companies began manufacturing offshore, in locations such as China, Mexico and Eastern Europe. Back then, that option was more cost effective. But with transportation, oil and labor costs on the rise, several companies are rethinking their positions on offshoring. According to the study, labor costs have been rising drastically in China. Average wages jumped by 150 percent from 1999 through 2006, for example, a period in which China emerged as the world’s workshop for a range of industries.
According to the CRE 2020 authors and other industry professionals, the trend is already taking place. American manufacturing jobs have increased by 4.4 percent over the span of the last two years, which equates to more than half a million new jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“It’s a sign of changing dynamics in global markets, but that’s been there for a while,” said John Morris, senior managing director of the global consulting practice at Cushman & Wakefield Inc. “Companies we talk to believe enough in the (economic) recovery that what they were just looking at a year ago they’re now actively bringing back to the States.”
Morris’ team is currently working with a pharmaceutical company that is bringing back manufacturing to the U.S. Southeast. Another C&W client that assembles computers and used to manufacture in Mexico is now looking for a homegrown base, as well.
The study lists half a dozen big-name companies that have also turned to onshoring or reshoring of their manufacturing, including Expedia, Dell, Home Depot and Source Bits. All four have moved their
customer service from India to parts of the United States. Ford Motor Co. also plans to return as many as 2,000 jobs to the United States in the wake of a favorable agreement with the United Auto Workers that allows the company to hire new workers at $14 per hour.
Companies are also starting to rely more on technology and automated production processes and therefore less on manual labor.
“We have something they don’t have: Our workers are more efficient than Chinese workers. We can do with equipment what they do with people,” observed George Livingston, chairman of NAI Realvest.
The labor cost arbitrage is also predicted to diminish as urbanization and industrialization trends in developing countries run their course. “People don’t realize America is still the second-largest manufacturer in the world. … China will probably continue being an expensive place to do business. As other countries become successful, they become like us,” Livingston added.
These factors will contribute to a moderate recovery in the industrial sector in the next five years. Rental rates, net absorption, development and investment volumes are predicted to continue rising through the middle of this decade. Leasing activity will also increase with the overall recovery in the economy during that timeframe, according to Ryan Severino, head of research at REIS Inc.
Severino, however, does not expect manufacturing’s return to have a huge impact. “Manufacturing properties could stand to benefit from any resurgence in U.S. manufacturing activity. Depending upon the types of goods being manufactured, it could slightly alter the flow of goods in the U.S. and cause demand for space to rise somewhat unexpectedly in certain markets and submarkets,” he said. But, he cautioned, “any repatriation of manufacturing activity is likely to be a small contributor to the growth of the industrial sector and not likely the main driver of growth.”