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May 07, 2011

The United States will be competitive with China in Manufacturing costs in 2015

China - US manufacturing cost components from 2008

Within the next five years, the United States is expected to experience a manufacturing renaissance as the wage gap with China shrinks and certain U.S. states become some of the cheapest locations for manufacturing in the developed world, according to a new analysis by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

With Chinese wages rising at about 17 percent per year and the value of the yuan continuing to increase, the gap between U.S. and Chinese wages is narrowing rapidly. Meanwhile, flexible work rules and a host of government incentives are making many states—including Mississippi, South Carolina, and Alabama—increasingly competitive as low-cost bases for supplying the U.S. market.



All over China, wages are climbing at 15 to 20 percent a year because of the supply-and-demand imbalance for skilled labor,” said Harold L. Sirkin, a BCG senior partner. “We expect net labor costs for manufacturing in China and the U.S. to converge by around 2015. As a result of the changing economics, you’re going to see a lot more products ‘Made in the USA’ in the next five years.”

After adjustments are made to account for American workers’ relatively higher productivity, wage rates in Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Tianjin are expected to be about only 30 percent cheaper than rates in low-cost U.S. states. And since wage rates account for 20 to 30 percent of a product’s total cost, manufacturing in China will be only 10 to 15 percent cheaper than in the U.S.—even before inventory and shipping costs are considered. After those costs are factored in, the total cost advantage will drop to single digits or be erased entirely, Sirkin said.

Products that require less labor and are churned out in modest volumes, such as household appliances and construction equipment, are most likely to shift to U.S. production. Goods that are labor-intensive and produced in high volumes, such as textiles, apparel, and TVs, will likely continue to be made overseas.

A number of companies, especially U.S.-based ones, are already rethinking their production locations and supply chains for goods destined to be sold in the U.S. For some, the economics have already reached a tipping point.

Caterpillar Inc., for example, announced last year the expansion of its U.S. operations with the construction of a new 600,000-square-foot hydraulic excavator manufacturing facility in Victoria, Texas. Once fully operational, the plant is expected to employ more than 500 people and will triple the company's U.S.-based excavator capacity.

Even as companies reduce their investment in China to make goods for sale in the U.S., it is clear that China will remain a large and important manufacturing location. First, investments to supply the huge domestic market in that nation will continue. Second, in the absence of trade barriers that prevent offshoring, Western Europe will continue to rely on China’s relatively lower labor rates since the region lacks the flexibility in wages and benefits that the U.S. enjoys.

Third, even though other low-cost countries—such as Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia—will benefit from companies seeking wage rates that are lower than China’s, only a portion of the demand for manufacturing will shift from China. Smaller low-cost countries simply lack the supply chain, infrastructure, and labor skills to absorb all of it, Hohner noted.

Boston Consulting Group - Globally Advantaged Manufacturing: Winning in the Downturn and Beyond (2009)

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