From the Shop Floor — The Week in Manufacturing (3/16/2012)

Here’s a fascinating story which originally appeared in the Atlantic on how and where American companies choose to place their China-based factories.

There is certainly a James Bond quality to the corporate espionage apparently going back and forth between China and the object of its desire, DuPont.  Specifically, the chemical equation for a product the Chinese government calls with some combination of greed and envy, “Titanium white,”  a chemical DuPont has been producing for over 70 years, which goes into everything from the inside of an Oreo to the outside of your car.

Here’s a fascinating and forward-looking perspective on the future of U.S. manufacturing from a UC Berkeley professor, writing as a guest columnist in a recent edition of the Washington Post.

Speaking of the future, Reuters columnist James Saft this week extols the virtue and the power of 3D printing, and why the technology makes such sense to develop.

The International Business Times wonders if there isn’t yet another factor that might continue to drive manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.: China’s economic slowdown.

Speaking of China, the numbers indicate that Chinese imports have recently swamped exports, sending the country’s trade defecit plunging into the red.

And in this country, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says that our expanding trade deficit is offering a sobering reality for those paying attention.

Boeing and Airbus are locked in a trade dispute which some feel, when all is said and done, might ultimately be worth $3 trillion.

According to Reuters, one of the poorest parts of the country is hitching its wagon to two new industries, while attempting to turn itself into something of a manufacturing hub.

The Sydney Morning Herald says thank goodness for the U.S. and India, which are spurring the world’s economic recovery, despite some still-trying times in the Eurozone.

Here’s a blog after my own heart, titled “Build it Here, Export Everywhere.”

At a Daimler truck plant in North Carolina, President Obama said the U.S. could spend up to $4.7 billion in support of “green” vehicles in the near future.

Shoe manufacturer New Balance, the only major athletic shoe company to produce goods on U.S. soil, explains to the Philadelphia News that the only reason they can afford to make shoes here is U.S. trade laws which levy a field-leveling duty on otherwise cheap imported shoes.

CFO magazine reports on what it calls “The End of Cheap China.”

Meanwhile Forbes aims its sights on “China’s Zero-Growth Economy.”

Bloomberg claims that President Obama’s campaign stops in dozens of manufacturing facilities across the country have been strategically designed to stand in stark contrast to Mitt Romney’s highly manicured and well-scrubbed Wall Street pedigree.

Reynolds American, a one-time superpower, announced to the surprise of abcolutely no one who has watched big tobacco turn into a sub-niche on the employment front, that they will be cutting over 500 jobs this year.

According to two major trade associations, U.S. manufacturing technology orders are up over 66% so far in 2012.

 The Wall Street Journal is offering subscribers a comprehensive real-time monitor of the Chinese economy it is calling China Econtracker.

A Ball State professor of economics is happy to report, “American Manufacturing Alive and Well.” 

The Eagle-Tribune reports that in an area  long considered dormant in terms of manufacturing, the Merrimack Valley in New Hampshire and Northeast Massachusetts, is starting to show signs of life.

Blogger Ian Yamamoto, a public policy student from Georgia Tech, claims that China is not responsible for the decline in U.S. mnaufacturing.

Just as I was finishing this post I received an email from This American Life host and creator Ira Glass, via my local NPR affiliate, WBEZ, which launched Glass’s award-winning show nearly 20 years ago. 

Glass writes that he was retracting a story they did on Mike Daisey, whose one-man show, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, takes on, among other things, the apparent mistreatment of workers in a Foxconn factory in China.  (Foxconn, of course, is one of the leading contract manuacturers of Apple products in China, and is a company whose name has been linked lately to, among other things, mass worker suicides.) 

Glass contends in the email that Daisey lied to him and his producer while they were fact-checking their story before air, and that what ran on This American Life included a number of factual inaccuracies.  In the email Glass accepted full responsibility for the broadcast, which right off the bat, I have to tell you, was refreshing.

I’ll do some further investigating and will no doubt have more to report on this item next week.

And finally, the rare earth minerals issue just seems to get bigger and bigger.  This week, PC magazine reports the U.S. and other countries have filed an official trade complaint to the WTO against China which controls 95% of the world’s current supply of the stuff.  Rare earth minerals, of course, are essential in the manufacture of electronic devices ranging from cell phones, video games and the iPad to almost countless components of communications satellite and strategic defense systems.

The Seattle Times reports that China, as might be expected, defended its cutting back of its exports of rare earth minerals.

Thought I’d leave you with this piece of raw video of the President speaking this week on this country’s complaint about China to the WTO.


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