In December, two conflicting reports were released, one by A.T. Kearney and one by the Boston Consulting Group. The A.T. Kearney report states that reshoring may be “over before it began,” and the Boston Consulting Group report states that it is increasing. Why the difference in opinion and who is right?

This was the second report by A.T. Kearney, in which their "U.S. Reshoring Index shows that, for the fourth consecutive year, reshoring of manufacturing activities to the United States has once again failed to keep up with offshoring. This time the index has dropped to –115, down from –30 in 2014, and it represents the largest year-over-year decrease in the past 10 years."

In fact they conclude that "the rate of reshoring actually lagged that of offshoring between 2009 and 2013, as the growth of overall domestic U.S. manufacturing activity failed to keep pace with the import of offshore manufactured goods over the five-year period. The one exception was 2011."

The authors of the A.T. Kearney report identify the two main factors contributing to the drop in the reshoring index to be "lackluster domestic manufacturing growth and the resilience of the offshore manufacturing sector."

With regard to the lackluster domestic manufacturing, the report states that data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis predicted that U.S. manufacturing gross output would shrink by 3.6% through the end of 2015 based on data through November [December data not available.]

On the other hand, the Boston Consulting Group survey results showed that "Thirty-one percent of respondents to BCG’s fourth annual survey of senior U.S.-based manufacturing executives at companies with at least $1 billion in annual revenues said that their companies are most likely to add production capacity in the U.S. within five years for goods sold in the U.S., while 20% said they are most likely to add capacity in China...The share of executives saying that their companies are actively reshoring production increased by 9% since 2014 and by about 250% since 2012. This suggests that companies that were considering reshoring in the past three years are now taking action. By a two-to-one margin, executives said they believe that reshoring will help create U.S. jobs at their companies rather than lead to a net loss of jobs."

The difference of opinion is based on different data. A.T. Kearney notes: "The manufacturing import ratio is calculated by dividing manufactured goods imports from 14 Asian markets [list of countries] by U. S. domestic gross output of manufactured goods. The U. S. reshoring index is the year-over-year change in the manufacturing ratio." 

In contrast, the Boston Consulting Group data is based on "an annual online survey of senior-level, U.S.-based manufacturing executives. This year’s survey elicited 263 responses. The responses were limited to one per company…Respondents are decision makers in companies with more than $1 billion in annual revenues, across a wide range of industries."

“These findings underscore how significantly U.S. attitudes toward manufacturing in America seem to have swung in just a few years,” said Harold L. Sirkin, a BCG senior partner and a coauthor of the research, which is part of BCG’s ongoing series on the shifting economics of global manufacturing, launched in 2011. “The results offer the latest evidence that a revival of American manufacturing is underway.”

The BCG survey identified such factors "as logistics, inventory costs, ease of doing business, and the risks of operating extended supply chains" are driving decisions to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. The primary reason for 76% of respondents reshoring production of goods to be sold in the U.S. was to “shorten our supply chain…while 70% cited reduced shipping costs and 64% said “to be closer to customers.”

The reasons cited by the BCG survey are consistent with the case studies that the Reshoring Initiative has captured, but the reshoring trend over the last few years has also been driven by a range of factors including rising offshore labor rates, especially in China, as well as the increased use of Total Cost of Ownership analysis to quantify the hidden costs of doing business offshore. The threat of Intellectual Property theft, cost of inventory (space to store and cost to buy larger size lots to get the "China price,) and quality/warranty/rework are also cited frequently. Longer delivery, cost and time of travel to visit offshore vendors, transportation costs, and communication problems also influence the decision to reshore.

About 60% of companies ignore these hidden costs and only look at wage rate, quoted piece price or at best, landed cost. Because of inaccurate data, many companies make the decision to offshore on the basis of faulty assumptions. The reality is that many companies are saving less than they expected, and in some cases, the hidden costs exceed the anticipated cost savings.

As an authorized speaker for Harry Moser's Reshoring Initiative for the past five years, I have been conducting my own informal surveys of manufacturers that I meet at trade shows and conferences. Most of these companies are Tier 2 or 3 suppliers of assemblies, sub-assemblies and component parts. Each year, more and more companies have told me that they are benefiting from reshoring.

At the trade shows I attended last year and conducted my informal survey, I didn't meet a single company that hadn't gotten new business or recaptured an old customer because of reshoring. I believe that there is a great deal more reshoring going on than A. T. Kearney or even the Boston Consulting Group can quantify because it isn't a whole product. It is an assembly, subassembly, or component part, such as metal stamped part, machined parts, sheet metal fabricated parts and assemblies, plastic and rubber molded parts, printed circuit boards, etc.

I now have slides for 300 case studies of companies that have reshored in the last six years provided to me by the Reshoring Initiative to use in my presentations. I can tailor my presentation to include slides for particular industries or geographical location. For example, when I spoke at the Lean Accounting Summit in Jacksonville, Florida in October, I shared case studies of companies that had reshored to the Southeast and when I spoke at the Design2Part show in Pasadena later that month, I shared case studies for companies that had reshored to California.

The Reshoring Initiative estimates that "if all companies used Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) analysis, 25% of the offshoring would come back." Their data reveals that about 100,000 manufacturing jobs have already been reshored in the last six years. Harry Moser states, "Excess offshoring represents an economic inefficiency that can be corrected at low cost. It is less expensive to educate companies than to incentivize them."

During a recent conversation with Harry Moser, he said, "The economic bleeding due to increasing offshoring has stopped. The rate of new reshoring is now equal to the rate of new offshoring. The challenge is now to reshore the 3 to 4 million manufacturing jobs that are still offshored." He provided me with the following chart to use in the presentations I gave last fall :

In the past, corporate cultures, supply chain reward systems, and investment have been heavily focused on offshoring. Many companies followed each other offshore in what Harry and I call "herd behavior." We are endeavoring to change the mindset from offshoring is cheaper to sourcing domestically may be the better choice.

Another way would be to change the way buyers/purchasing agents in supply chain groups are being evaluated and rewarded on the basis of their success in achieving purchase price variance; i.e., selecting sources on the basis of the cheapest price. Chief Financial Officers need to allow their company's supply chain department to utilize expenses in the other accounting categories that need to be taken into consideration in doing a Total Cost of Ownership analysis, such as transportation costs, travel and communication costs related to the supply chain, and the cost of quality problems related to rejected parts and reworking of salvageable parts.

Transforming to the value stream method of Lean Accounting would also facilitate being able to do a Total Cost of Ownership analysis more than Standard Cost Accounting because all of the costs related to that value stream are put into the category of Conversion costs and not put in the separate accounting categories of standard cost accounting.

The reality is that companies will only bring back the majority of offshored work if the economics of producing in the U.S. improve. The actions needed for more reshoring are the same as needed for manufacturing in general. These include developing a national manufacturing strategy that encompasses skilled workforce training, corporate tax reform, regulatory reform, and Border Adjustable Taxes (aka VATs) while addressing the predatory mercantilist practices of other countries with regard to currency manipulation, product dumping, and government subsidies.

Let’s return to the question of the status of the reshoring trend. The government keeps no related data. ATK tries to measure reshoring indirectly by measuring imports. It would be better to measure the actual phenomenon. BCG uses surveys of reshoring plans, but companies’ actions often differ from plans. The Reshoring Initiative counts the actual reshoring cases and jobs reported in the media and privately by companies. Readers can help resolve the dispute by reporting their cases of successful or failed reshoring to Harry Moser at harry.moser@reshorenow.org  or to me, so I can write about them in future articles.