Electronics manufacturing is part of the entire ecosystem. When manufacturing moves overseas, it eventually pulls away design jobs. Consider the case of TV manufacturing. The following moved offshore in progression: assembly, PCB design, component manufacture, TV design, chip manufacturing and finally chip design. Not a single US company designs TV chips now.
Now consider auto manufacturing; because of the iconic status of the automobile in US culture, we put our foot down and decided to complete with Japan, Korea and now China. We still have a vibrant automobile industry.
Take another example; the use of copper in the auto industry. Germany considers copper key to its auto industry and has taken steps to ensure that copper is smelted within Germany!
Manufacturing definitely sustains jobs at all levels of an industry’s ecosystem. Design jobs may be the icing on the cake, but manufacturing is the cake. If the cake goes, so does the icing.
"His strength will be that he's local, without the cultural differences and time zone issues imposed by overseas collaborations."
I think the above is absolutely correct.
On your other point: What about the service-related jobs created by local production clusters, whether they be manufacturing or produced services? Do we not get an employment boost from the ecosystem generated by production?
The era of Off-shoring was ushered in with the book "The World is Flat". But working in this environment for the past 10 years I have an addendum to that statement. The world may be flat, but it's not small. The basics of time and space never change in any economic structure. I'll always be 13 hours different from Asia and it still takes about 18 hours to go from the US to Taiwan. Unless a US company relocates the entire leadership structure to Asia, the movement off shore went too far and now the pendulum swings back to the middle with some coming back.
When you talk about manufacturing and jobs, the question becomes just what jobs you are talking about.
The problem for the US economy is that manufacturing was for many years a source of jobs for low-skilled or unskilled workers, and it's largely those jobs that went elsewhere. Work goes to where it can be done cheapest, and such work was a lot cheaper elsewhere. A lot of workers were effectively told "What you do isn't worth what you were being paid to do it." as jobs migrated overseas.
The problem is hardly unique to the US. A good bit of the current problems affecting the Eurozone have roots in the same issue, as countries with uncompetitive economies are in increasing trouble, and national governments can no longer shield uncompetitive industries and those who work in them from competition.
Those low-skilled/unskiiled jobs *aren't* coming back, because the people who buy the products won't pay the prices required to have them done here.
The unanswered question is what we do for the low-skilled/unskilled folks, and the answer isn't manufacturing.
As for design engineers, returning manufacturing to the US may well create jobs, but it will come about because having the engineer close to where the products he designs are made and sold provides quicker time to market. If the design can be done anywhere (and with the Internet, it largely can), the US designer will compete in areas not directly related to design skills. His strength will be that he's local, without the cultural differences and time zone issues imposed by overseas collaborations.
Seems to me that we've seen all of this before. Manufacturing jobs of the last century are what farming was in previous centuries. To me, what's different is not that manufacturing jobs have gone away due to factory automation, but that whole sectors of the economy have moved overseas.
"Necessity is the mother of invention." If a country moves too much manufacturing overseas, to make consumers happy in the **short term** with lower prices, then the design efforts will follow, to get closer to the manufacturing. Why wouldn't they?
If I had a manufacturing facility somewhere, why on earth would I not be inclined to do some of my own design changes on the products I manufactured, and then even introduce new ones? I certainly would.
So moving too much offshore, IMO, dumbs down the US. It makes it dependent and it makes people say things like (and haven't we ALL heard this just one time too many): "I would never recommend engineering to anyone, these days. Go into finance instead."
It's clear we can't compete on labor costs. We can compete on product innovation and value-added design and manufacturing. It is also increasing clear based on academic research, particularly by Georgia Tech Dan Breznitz, that China's IT industry is a second-generation innovator, largely because the Chinese system is based on what Breznitz calls "structured uncertainty." The result is that few Chinese IT companies are willing to take risks, so they play it safe and pursue little or no innovative R&D.
This is the prevailing view among many economists. The rub, of course, is training enough technicians and other skilled workers. As we've reported in areas like solar installation, community colleges are starting to refine their curricula to train this new generation of workers.
Manufacturing is actually very important if you want to realise your innovation or thought. But manufacturing pays well if the raw material cost or labor cost is low. In western countries the minimum wages being high its difficult to compete with the Asian countries where the wages in comparison are low. But as a nation if we want the self ownership then yes the manufacturing is really important to do. But I do agree the processes and ethics are strong in USA/west.
Without innovation there is no manufacturing. An innovative product or category of products will need to be manufactured somewhere. Yes manufacturing can be brought back to the USA but on a more automated level. You will still need technicians to calibrate and take care of issues when things are not working correctly.
Innovation creates some jobs, but just very limited. So when it comes to feeding millions of people, manufacturing is still necessary to be inside US. The question is - will people still be able to turn back to work like a horse?