After years of sending manfuacturing to offshore facilities, America has realized that it’s damaged our economy. As US factories close, millions of jobs were lost and many workers were not able to find other sources of work. The trade deficit ballooned and it may have reduced our innovative edge. Indeed, President Trump campaigned on a platform to bring jobs back to America and won the election.
Gary Pisano and Willy Shich, in “Producing Prosperity: Why American Needs a Manufacturing Renaissance”, suggest that another key benefit of moving some manufacturing back to the United States is to revitalize innovation.
Theses Harvard businness professors, argue that when a company loses it’s capability to manufacture, it also loses the ability to innovate and compete. “ Instead of job creation, we believe that the central objective of a national manufacturing strategy should be keeping America’s innovation capabilities healthy, because innovation drives productivity and productivity drives wages.”
Pisano notes that the trend to deindustrialize the US started with the globablization of supply chains. Companies thought they could move manufacturing elsewhere to be cost-competitive, yet keep design (innovation) here. Solar power technologies offer an example. While solar cells (Photovoltaic (PV) cells) were first invented in the United States in 2012, only 3% of PV production was based in the US and Canada; 81% is Asia, with China and Taiwan leading the market. “Once you lose the capabilities, you can bring them back, but the level of investment, activation energy to bring back is higher”, says Pisano.
Indeed, Shih discovered this first hand while working with Kodak. “ Because of earlier decisions to outsource camera manufacturing and consumer electronics assembly to Asia, the innovative capability no longer existed in the United States.” Today’s “endangered species” of American industries include semiconductors and rechargeable batteries.
Andrew Liveris, Chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical, notes “without a vibrant manufacturing secor, R&D will be done not by the US but by its major competitors. Over time, that will leave America dependent on intellectual property that’s created by other countries; American’s ability to generate its own growth will atrophy.” (Make it in America: the Case for Re-Investing the Economy by Liveris.)
Two companies that appear to be aware of this great risk include Intel, which controls the manufacturing of its proprietary process for making chips, and Corning, which maintains leadership in all its business, including Gorilla Glass, a very thin, damage-resistance glass display for mobile devices.
The authors make a second important point: that distance matters in certain industries. For example, biotechnology and life sciences are mainly clustered in Boston, San Francisco and San Diego. Semiconductor manufacturing is amassed in Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing. High-end shoe producers are located in the south of Venice, Italy. Hi-tech and Venture Capital grew in Silicon Valley; the auto industry grew in Detroit, Michigan. Why? Because these industries form “industrial commons” that operate within an “ecosystem” and share know-how and capabilities. To stay innovate, they stay close to one-another, so there are frequent interactions between workers, companies, suppliers, universities, etc. This also permit these companies to cultivate a workforce to meet expanding workforce demands in these industries, through apprenticeship and internships.
In sum, innovation is fueled by close contact and communication – not by distributing parts of the process to the four corners of the world. We must facilitate the development of ecosystems for design, innovation, teaching , manufacturing, etc. of critical industries so jobs which will enable people to stay creative and innovate new solutions for delivering superior products.
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