What, in heaven's name, will a Democratic administration do to foster manufacturing in the US? Judging from its need to prop up failing GM and bolster the unions involved, manufacturing per se seems to be something that they deliberately do not understand. The US government, Dem or Republican, liberal or conservative, has no business promoting business. It's business is to ensure a healthy environment for business. That means the minimal amount of interference and regulation needed to keep monopolistic industries in check, and to curb flagrant violations of labor laws. Almost everything else can be handled by the bottom line. Black: good job. Red: try again.
Government's record in promoting business isn't really impressive. Solyndra is only a recent example of the government "helping" a nascent industry. That's one way of describing the act of flushing a half billion dollars down the drain to help out their buddies while flogging a dead, green horse.
Let's expect Congress to pass a budget, then worry about their good intentions towards business.
It is so expensive to manufacture anything electronic in the U.S. Even the identical components from the identical manufacturers are quoted at much higher prices to U.S. customers than would be to Taiwanese customers (especially IC's and PCB fabrication). I suspect one issue is U.S. based vendors and contract manufacturers have become accustomed to working at the very large margins that govt and defense contractors are willing to pay and have little interest in cost-sensitive designs.
Is it possible that the difference in cost is also attributed to liability concerns? I agree that manufacturing here in the US is a costly proposition, but I'm not sure that it's merely a desire for large margins. Labor costs in the US are higher than many countries, particularly China.
One other note: government and defense contractors don't see enormous margins as a rule. Government contracts are often quite stringent, and to be honest, you can make more money selling a million $20 hammers to the public than 50 $750 hammers to the military. I don't know what Boeing or Lockheed make on a fighter jet, but I know how many people are involved in the design, test, and production, and I'm surprised that they can make anything at all.
We have spoken to some pc-board and other U.S. companies that have brought contract work back from China. They told us that quality was not up to snuff and that language and cultural barriers outweighed the cost savings. This isn't a trend, but it does indicate that some components are better designed and made here.
Being good at manufacturing is not impossible for the US, or anywhere in the West. Consider http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16408511. It's down to having good management and good relations with the workforce. Alas the tendency over the last 30 years has been for management to pay themselves ever increasing salaries while outsourcing manufacturing. The government could change this outsourcing culture with tax changes - but would the big multinationals try and kill such moves?
The manufacturing sector has been the fastest growing sector of the US economy in the last couple of years. The problem is, there was an NPR report on this subject, that many jobs that were brought back on-shore are taken by machines, that is, some companies now use fully automated production lines which create almost no jobs. Of course, one can argue that jobs are created to build these automated machines but the number has to be much smaller.
I do not know how much welder and electrician jobs are out there but the US need to create something like 5M to 10M jobs to solve the job problem and the Chinese style labor intensive manufacturing will never work in the US. Short of a spectacular technical breakthrough comparable to the invention of internet I do not see any magic bullet that can significantly reduce the jobless rate in the near future. There is little the government can do.
A combination of factors have combined to produce the current manufacturing and job situation in the States, so there is no one magic solution that will solve it. Providing manufacturing-friendly regulations and tax situations in the States will help, but the labor costs will still be non-competitive with much lower cost-of-living countries. Changing the education system would be helpful but what careers would you retrain for with assurance they will be needed when one finally graduates? While manufacturing was the beginning of the outsourcing trend, it has now expanded to engineering design, product development, and other highly skilled jobs. It's a very complicated situation with many inter-related issues that cannot be solved just be creating another government office that will be influenced by the same special interest groups now creating bad policy in Washington.
Motorola opened a state of the art cell mfg site in 96 and closed it in 2006 because it was cheaper "per phone" to manufacture in china. Was it worth it to save $1/phone? (don't know what the real number is but it certainly amounted to a significant total). The cost to Motorola long term is up for debate. Was it the right choice?
Manufacturing may make something of a comeback, but it won't be the way it was last century. GM and Chrysler went bankrupt, in large measure (not entirely), because of inefficient manufacturing practices. It took government ownership to rid GM of the excess baggage. Ironic, isn't it? Had they tried this on their own, they would have had to deal with untold number of strikes.
To make it cost effective in the US, manufacturing will have to depend a whole lot more on automation, and a whole lot less on manual labor, with its associated benefits packages (health care, retirement, 401K contributions, etc.).
I think it would be wrong for government bureaucrats to force people into welding classes, when it will be robots doing most of the welding. We can't compete if we re-create manufacturing, China style, in the US.
As an aside, hands down the best software engineer I've ever had the pleasure to work with, and this has been true for more than 10 years, is a graduate of DeVry University. A for profit university.