Meridian Star

May 7, 2013

Reshoring output requires STEM input

By Bill Crawford / Guest Columnist
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — “Reshoring” is the catchy name used to describe efforts to bring manufacturing jobs back to America. It includes the return of jobs “off-shored” or “out-sourced” by U.S. companies as well as jobs brought to America by direct foreign investment.

    While General Electric, Caterpillar, and Ford have brought jobs back to the U.S., we see more direct foreign investment jobs. The just announced Japanese Yokohama Tire project in West Point joins Russian Severstal, Israeli Stark Aerospace, and European Eurocopter as examples in East Mississippi, Toyota in Northeast Mississippi, European Airbus and German ThyssenKrupp near Mobile, and Chinese Golden Dragon near Thomasville, Ala.

    Why are these manufacturing jobs coming to or back to America?

    Rising shipping costs matter, but a narrowing wage gap as foreign wages go up and U.S. wages go down may matter more. Boston Consulting Group found that “the United States is on pace to have lower manufacturing costs than Europe and Japan by 2015,” reported the Washington Post.

    President Barack Obama wants to reshore one million jobs by the end of his presidency. Federal agencies support this initiative by offering competitive grants. The most recent is a multi-agency grant entitled the Make It In America Challenge.

    The Make it in America Challenge will provide $40 million through the Department of Commerce, the Department of Labor, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to support the development and implementation of regionally driven economic development strategies “that accelerate job creation by encouraging re-shoring of productive activity by U.S. firms, fostering increased Foreign Direct Investment, encouraging U.S. companies to keep or expand their businesses—and jobs— in the United States, and training local workers to meet the needs of those businesses.”

    “Training local workers” is a vital part of the reshoring formula.

    You see, many high-tech manufacturing companies located in the U.S. import skilled foreign workers to fill high-tech positions. They do this through the H-1B Visa program. The Make It In America Challenge requires the training of American workers for jobs now being filled by H-1B foreign workers.

    Through reshoring, we want more high-tech manufacturing jobs…for Americans.

    These H-1B manufacturing jobs include mechanical, chemical, and electronics engineers and advanced technicians in the same fields.

    Here lies the challenge for many parts of America and Mississippi. Too many of our K-12 students fare poorly in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs that produce engineers and advanced technicians. Our global STEM rankings have been on the decline.

    We expect our universities to output engineers and our community colleges to output credentialed advanced manufacturing technicians. But to do so, they have to input students with STEM competencies and interests.

    Mississippi and America can reshore only so many high-tech jobs with a weak STEM educational system.

 

    Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.