Made in the U.S.A.: Why American manufacturing is on the rise

Mike Bacidore says innovation and location are leading the U.S. manufacturing resurgence.

By Mike Bacidore, chief editor

The United States is exporting more goods and services than ever before, said Fred Hochberg, chairman and president, Export-Import Bank of the United States (www.exim.gov), an independent credit agency of the U.S. government. Hochberg was one of the featured speakers in late April as the Washington Post Live and Siemens hosted an online event, “America’s New Manufacturing,” which looked at reasons behind the U.S. resurgence.

“Exports are up in the 40-50% rate since 2009,” said Hochberg. “It's now 14% of our economy. More of it is going to emerging or developing economies. The financial crisis has brought a lot more business our way. Siemens' factory in Charlotte, North Carolina, is exporting about 75% of what's manufactured there and competing with the factory in Berlin, Germany. People talk about advanced manufacturing, but no one knows what it is. The amount of man-hours, the labor portion, is not as big of a portion as it was.”

Mike Bacidore has been an integral part of the Putman Media editorial team since 2007, when he was managing editor of Control Design magazine. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning a Gold Regional Award and a Silver National Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at 630-467-1300 ext. 444 or mbacidore@putman.net or check out his .

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About 40% of what Airbus puts in an airplane comes from the United States, said Allan McArtor, chairman of Airbus Americas (www.airbus.com), who also spoke at the event. “The success of the Airbus product line comes from innovation. We find that in the United States. There's almost a month more of days for a U.S. worker than there is for a European worker.”

Airbus is heavily invested with Wichita State University and an engineering center there, but Mobile, Alabama is the epicenter of its development in the United States. “In choosing Alabama, our logistics required container-ship and airport access,” explained McArtor. “The state of Alabama was very cooperative. We were taken by how motivated the local community was after Katrina and the BP oil spill. We have a global engineering base, but innovation comes closer to the production facility. As long as we stay close to our engineering centers and universities and the manufacturing hubs, we think we'll have a combination of innovation and manufacturing.”

Nissan’s intent is to produce vehicles where they're selling them. “The scale of our products is smaller than an airplane's, but we see weekly shifts in demands based on the price of gasoline,” said a third event speaker, Bill Krueger, senior VP, manufacturing, purchasing and supply chain, Nissan North America (www.nissanusa.com). “It's important that we have available, capable workers who have the basic requirements and the hunger to learn. We're finding that in Tennessee and Mississippi. We've been in Tennessee for more than 30 years. They were very attractive because of their proximity to where our consumers are. The outbound logistics are very favorable. The inbound is favorable because the Detroit suppliers have migrated south.”

Nissan is exporting out of Tennessee to Russia and to China, explained Krueger. “The countries will dictate the regulations to what they'll allow,” he said. “We’re fast, frugal, and flexible. We don't want automation to be so capital-intensive that it relies on scale. There's nothing more flexible and nimble than a human being, when it comes to manufacturing. But automation can relieve some of the arm and leg power and allow automakers to have flexibility with the workforce. We're looking to have applicable automation. The integration of information in the factory — the information transfer — is more prevalent in my mind when we're setting up new plants.”

Read Mike Bacidore's monthly column, From the Editor.

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