Archive for the ‘Nearsourcing’ Category

Manufacturing Thrives in San Diego’s North County Region

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

On the morning of July 1st, the San Diego North Economic Development Council (SDNEDC) hosted a North County Manufacturing Executive Roundtable at the City of Vista Civic Center. Over 100 professionals were welcomed by County Supervisor Dave Roberts and Lee Morrison of Bank of America. Bank of America and The Eastridge Group of Staffing Companies sponsored the Roundtable.

In an interview prior to the event, KPBS Morning Edition anchor Deb Welsh spoke to Carl Morgan, CEO of the San Diego North Economic Development Council. Morgan said. “Manufacturing is alive and well in San Diego’s North County.” He said the manufacturing executive roundtable would discuss why companies chose to locate and stay in the region. Ms. Morgan asked him what North County’s six key industry clusters are, and he responded that “the sports and active lifestyle, clean technology, biotechnology and medical and informational technology “are doing very, very well” besides the craft and brew industry.

Reo Carr, executive editor of the San Diego Business Journal, moderated the panel, which also discussed such topics as reshoring of manufacturing, environmental concerns, filling the gap between education and manufacturers’ need for skilled labor, sufficient, accessible transportation, and the economic incentives that are and should be available.

The six panelists were: Clark Crawford, VP Sales and Business Development, Soitec Solar, which manufacturersconcentrated photovoltaic (“CPV”) solar modules; Christine Jensen, special programs coordinator at Mira Costa College, which offers classes in biotechnology, engineering, and machining; Jeffrey McCain, CEO, McCain, Inc, a pioneer of advanced traffic control equipmentas well as a contract manufacturer; Michele Nash-Hoff, President, ElectroFab Sales and Chair, California Chapter of the Coalition for a Prosperous America; Chris Roth, vice president, Lee & Associates, the Nation’s largest broker owned commercial real estate services firm.; and Martin Wood, CEO, Delkin Devices, the largest US memory card manufacturer.

Crawford said that when his company (Soitec Solar Industries headquarted in Grenoble, France) decided to set up another manufacturing plant in the U.S., they were wooed to come to many states, including Texas, but they chose to move to California because California’s GO-Biz worked with them to identify possible site locations around the state and to define all statewide incentives that could be available to their company. GO-Biz participated in several rounds of site selection tours that helped to qualify the final locations, out of which they chose San Diego. They were able to get the former Sony building in Rancho Bernardo before it went on the open market. When fully operational, Soitec will directly employ 450 and indirectly support 1,000 jobs.

The other reason they chose California is that it is the largest market for solar energy, and California offers good financial incentives for residents and business to convert to solar energy.

Crawford mentioned that GO-Biz also worked with the California Employment Training Panel (ETP) staff to help qualify Soitec for training funds to help their company train and prepare employees for the high-skilled jobs at their newly established factory in San Diego. During my subsequent phone interview, Mr. Crawford told me they were awarded $300,000 in training funds by the California ETP, and they provided over 15,000 training hours to their San Diego employees. They completed the training in early April 2014.

When asked why his company stays in California instead of moving to another state, McCain said, “California is currently the 8th largest economy in the world. A tremendous amount of our business, current and future, will come from this economy. Even though it is still difficult to find qualified employees, it is my experience that California is rich in qualified workforce, compared to other states.”

He added, “Our success depends greatly on the advantages of our workforce in Mexico. However, over the last 20 years, I have come to realize the culture in Mexico makes it difficult to do manufacturing that requires ingenuity and innovation. We will typically do our first articles and fixturing and any automation type manufacturing in the U.S. When it comes to labor intense, higher volume products, we can turn it over to the plant in Mexico where they can be very successful producing quality products. That allows the company to compete successfully, not only in the U.S. but also against offshore companies. The operation in Mexico, just over the last two years, has allowed us to grow our U.S. side, which has nearly 200 employees.”

In contrast, Martin Wood, stated, “We are solicited often by other States to move our manufacturing facility and jobs to NV, TX, FL, AZ and others. While it would be disruptive, in all cases, it would be like handing employees and the company a raise. Lower or zero State taxes is a big incentive to move. “

“While previous offers were less appealing, they are becoming more and more sophisticated involving real estate and grants, development and hiring help, and of course, no taxes for an extended period or permanently. Any business that is truly run for profit above all would be foolish to not at least consider these offers. We try not to let it consume us, and only entertain them on an annual basis. Right now, California edges out other states in our analysis, based on a number of support, service availability, and quality of life issues, but the gap is narrowing.”

“People in City, County and State Government should be aware this poaching is going on, and try to find a way to bring advantages to manufacturers in California and incentivize them to stay. We know we bring high paying employment wherever we go, and our customers are based worldwide. I see no reason these offers will not continue and expect them to get more and more appealing. Don’t get me wrong, I love California and my family is firmly entrenched here, but to truly own and manage a manufacturing business, you must make hard decisions and be right most of the time.”

Roth stated “the quality of life here in Southern California is a great incentive for companies to continue operating here even though [manufacturing companies] are not receiving the same type of incentives from the local and state governments.” This was one of the major points made in explaining why manufacturers tend to stay in California, despite the sometimes harsh business environment. Roth also stated that a key decision factor in contemplating company relocation is the difficulty entailed in moving employees and their families.

I commented that a company is more than a product; it is also the people who formed and comprise the existing company, and many times, employees aren’t willing to relocate to another state, and the company loses people key to its success. This is often what happens when an out-of-state company buys a San Diego regional company. Key employees don’t move with the company, and the acquisition becomes “buying a product” rather than “buying a company.” In addition, I pointed out that over 90% of California’s manufacturers are less than 100 people, and their customers are most local obtained through word of mouth and referrals. If they decide to move the company, it would be as if they started a new company from scratch.

When Reo Carr asked the question about reshoring, I explained that it started because of quality issues and expanded because of increases in wages in China over the last few years. I mentioned that China and other Asian nations don’t honor U.S. patent laws, which leads to intellectual property theft, hurting U.S. companies in the long run. The other panelists added their opinions as to why outsourcing manufacturing to China is becoming of a thing of the past (increasing wages, quality control, and logistics problems and problem-resolution) and why America is benefiting from the shift to returning manufacturing to America.

McCain confirmed that the contract manufacturing division of his business is benefitting from regional companies returning manufacturing to America.

In answer to the question about the impact of environmental and other regulations, I pointed out that we have been outsourcing our pollution to China and other Asian countries to escape the costs of regulation here. The consequences of industrialization with environmental regulations has been horrific for China and India, which I described one of the chapters in my book (Can American Manufacturing be Saved? Why we should and how we can) When asked about the environmental regulations that apply to his plant in Mexico, Mr. McCain said that Mexico is quickly catching up with the U. S.

A question from the audience about the shortage of local, trained machinists led into a discussion about two connected issues: workforce training and mass transit. Ms. Jensen shared that colleges are shifting in the programs they are now offering in an effort to meet the needs of employers. Mira Costa has both certificate and Associate degree courses in biotechnology, engineering, and manufacturing skills such as machining. She encouraged the companies to check with their local community colleges to inquire about the various programs available. I shared that there are now four high schools that provide up to two years of training to be a machinist and that for years and years, the San Diego Community College District has provided machining and welding training, as well as other manufacturing skills.

Wood said, “it is hard to find people to fill the positions they need, because most of [the blue collar laborers] live further south, in South County.” Crawford seconded that comment, saying that workers are coming from points south, as well…even from Mexico. McCain added mass transportation needs to improve to deal with the issue of where employees are traveling from to accommodate the job availability.

I pointed out that San Diego doesn’t have a “hub” center of manufacturing where everyone is going to work. The industrial business parks are scattered around the county (mainly in 13 of the 18 cities in San Diego County). Mass transit doesn’t work well for this type of region, and I don’t know how feasible it would ever be for mass transit to get workers coming from across the border to these scattered business parks.

In conclusion, the panelists shared that for the time being, the advantages of doing business in California outweighed the disadvantages. The biggest draw is still the quality of life the region offers, as well as the great weather. I shared that the successful company that stays in San Diego has a high dollar, high value, low to mid volume product, which has proprietary technology and lower labor content. When this type company does a Total Cost Analysis of doing business in San Diego/California, it pencils out positively. Crawford agreed that doing this kind of analysis is what enabled them to make the decision to locate Soitec in San Diego.

While it is hard to compete against the incentives and low or no taxes of some other states, we may have fewer companies making the decision to move out of California if more companies did this type of analysis. Of course, it would be even better if the governor and legislature actually proposed and passed legislation that would benefit manufacturers instead of adding to their costs of doing business in California.


Nearsourcing is the Next Best Thing to Reshoring

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

The basic definition of nearsourcing is to source outside your own facility, but within your own region and not on the other side of the globe. Nearsourcing may have a different meaning depending on the region in which you are located in the United States. For the purposes of this article, the definition of nearsourcing means sourcing in Mexico, which is the meaning understood in California and in other states along the international border with Mexico.

As much as it is would be desirable for all the manufacturing we lost to offshoring in China to return to the United States, it is an unrealistic expectation in the global economy. As logistics costs continue to increase worldwide, sourcing regionally will become the most reasonable course of action for companies with a global market.

Although reshoring through returning manufacturing to America is gaining momentum as wages and logistics costs rise in China, there is still a substantial cost differential for high volume and/or high labor content products. What is a good solution to this problem? Nearsourcing to Mexico may be the right answer.

Nearsourcing to Mexico by U. S. manufacturers began in the 1965 after the “maquila program was initiated in 1965 during the Diaz Ordaz presidency as a means of attracting foreign investment, increasing exports, and fostering industrialization along the U.S./Mexico border” By the mid 1980s there were thousands of maquiladoras in cities along Mexico’s border with the U. S. Some of my first customers when I started my rep agency in 1985 were maquiladoras owned by U. S. corporations in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico.

For many years, Americans crossed the border to work in the maquiladora plants as engineers, purchasing agents, department heads, and plant managers, but gradually Americans were replaced by Mexican nationals, first the engineers, then purchasing agents, then department heads, and more recently as plant or general managers.

Prior to NAFTA, all production that was generated in the Mexican plants had to return to the country of origin or had to go to a third country. During the first phase of NAFTA from 1994-2000, the maquiladoras continued to benefit from the waiver of Mexican import duties on raw materials while also benefitting from the preferential duty rates on those products that satisfy NAFTA rules of origin. Since then, duties on raw materials that originate in non-NAFTA countries increased, but not as much as originally anticipated. During the second phase of NAFTA, changing rules made it gradually more difficult to sell to the maquiladoras because persons wishing to conduct business at maquiladoras had  to purchase a FN certificate (by the day or year), provide written proof of an appointment, and within a few years, have a passport. If a company was caught having a visitor that didn’t have written proof of an advance appointment, the company was fined. Thus, it became illegal to do what is called “cold calling” on prospects without an appointment.

During the early 2000s, the maquila industry was hit hard by the U. S. recession of 2001-2002, and hundreds of maquiladoras closed along the border. Since I read, write, and speak Spanish, I subscribed to a maquila industry newsletter, and every issue was filled with names of companies that were closing plants in Mexico. Many foreign companies in Tijuana abandoned the equipment in their plants to be sold in auction to pay benefits to the Mexican government for employees that had lost their jobs when the plants closed. I had a business acquaintance who survived the U. S. recession by acting as the Mexican government’s representative to handle the auctions.

The recession coincided with China becoming part of the World Trade Organization and the beginning of the trend to move manufacturing to China. Many U. S., Japanese, and Korean companies chose to move manufacturing to China rather than resume manufacturing in Mexico. The effects of the recession of 2008-2009 were not as severe as the previous recession on the maquila industry, but it meant that it took nearly the whole decade of the 2000s for the maquila industry in the Baja California, Mexico cities of Tijuana, Tecate, and Mexicali to get back to the level of manufacturing they had in the year 2000.

In my opinion, the San Diego region lost less manufacturing to China than other parts of California and the U.S. because so many regional manufacturers already had long-established plants in Tijuana and Mexicali and didn’t see enough cost savings to move manufacturing to China. This was aided by the fact that San Diego’s manufacturing industry has always had more high mix, low volume products than either Silicon Valley or the Los Angeles region.

There was one industry that could not move manufacturing to China and that has remained especially strong in Baja California:  the aerospace and defense industry. According to the report “Aerospace & Defense Manufacturing in Mexico,” released in August 2013. “Mexico is home to more than 260 aerospace manufacturing facilities and a 31,000 strong, highly-skilled direct industry workforce.” Major U. S. defense companies such as BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Delphi established plants in Mexico during the late 19890s and early 1990s. Baja California leads with 28% of Mexico’s aerospace and defense industry exports, and Baja California has the only Binational Aerospace Cluster in Mexico.

“Mexico currently attracts 5% of the total number of licenses granted by the State Department of the United States for the production of dual use goods and technologies.” Mexico has been proactive in pursuing more aerospace and defense business by joining the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) between the U. S. and Mexico, the international Wassenaar Arrangement (WA), and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Some of San Diego’s aerospace and defense industries that have manufacturing plants in Baja California include:  BAE Systems, Cubic Corporation, Gulfstream, Lockheed Martin, and UTC Aerospace Systems. Other U. S. aerospace and defense manufacturers in Baja California are Delphi Connection Systems, Eaton Aerospace, and Honeywell. The state of Queretaro, a few hours south of Mexico City, is home to such companies as Bombardier Aerospace, GE Infrastructure, ITR, Curtiss Wright, and Eurocopter.

Under NAFTA, the Buy American Act requirement for the U. S. Department of Defense to purchase products that contain a minimum of 50% of U. S. produced content is waived, so defense and aerospace companies are allowed to purchase products made in Mexico and Canada.

Also, under “the Manufacturing, Maquiladora and Export Service Decree, the IMMEX program allows for goods, raw materials and components to be imported into Mexico on a temporary basis, duty-free and VAT-free, as long as they are returned abroad within the established timeframes (most are 18 mos.”

In addition, a Special Aerospace Tariff Section 9806.00.06 “allows for free imports to assemble and manufacture aircraft or aircraft parts when companies have the Certificate of Approval to Produce issued by the Ministry of communications and Transportation.” Section 9806.00.05 allows “gods for repair or maintenance of aircraft or aircraft parts…to also be free of tariffs and have administrative advantages for companies.”

You may ask when nearsourcing is the best decision if you cannot achieve enough cost savings to return manufacturing to the U. S. It may be the best decision in the following cases:

  • Proximity to U. S. customers is important
  • Product labor content is between 20-30%
  • High mix, variable products, mid volume production
  • Intellectual Property protection is important
  • Faster delivery/responsiveness than from Asia
  • Product has substantial U.S. part content
  • Mexico/Latin America are key markets
  • NAFTA benefits fit your products

For California manufacturers, especially in southern California and San Diego, the main advantages of nearsourcing in Baja California compared to China and other parts from Asia are:

  • Right across the border from San Diego
  • Minimal Intellectual Property risk  because of strong Mexican Intellectual Property laws
  • Labor costs are now 14.6% cheaper than China
  • Lower utility rates
  • Direct connection to major transportation centers
  • Industrial real estate lease rates that are 1/3 less than China
  • Mexico’s workforce is highly skilled and educated
  • Low average turnover rate of 2.6% reported in 2011
  • Mexico graduates more engineers/year than U.S. (about 115,000 vs. about 50,000)

As a strong advocate for American manufacturing, I want as much as manufacturing as possible to reshore to create more good paying jobs in order to rebuild our middle class. However, I would rather see U. S. companies nearsource parts in Mexico than source them halfway around the world in China. The Mexican government isn’t using the U. S. dollars they gain from our trade deficit to build up their military, and Mexico doesn’t have any nuclear missiles aimed at the U. S. as does China. It is an advantage to our country if Mexico creates more good-paying jobs in the manufacturing industry to grow their middle class. To me, nearsourcing to Mexico seems like a win-win solution for strengthening the middle class of both countries.