I confess to you that since I was eleven years old, I have had a deep-seated—almost primal—fear of Michael Myers. No, not the guy from the Austin Powers films, the other Michael Myers. You know, the masked serial killer from the Halloween movies who preys upon pretty babysitters and editors of finishing magazines. Though I know full well that he’s a fictional character, the mention of his name or the sight of him on TV has managed to send a shiver down my spine ever since I saw my first “Halloween” movie. And though I am nearly 30 years old, I still have nightmares about good ole Mike (yes, we are on a first-name basis) a few times a year.
I mention all of this not because Halloween is approaching, or so as to give my friends and co-workers an opportunity to scare the bejeezus out of me, but rather, because it occurs to me that American manufacturing has its own version of Michael Myers: CHINA.
Scary, eh? I’ll give you a moment to recover…
Anyway, to be serious for a minute, the China—and for that matter the rest of Asia—threat might pose one of the greatest economic problems in the history of American manufacturing. Offering a wealth of cheap labor, and unencumbered by strict environmental and government regulations, China is taking more and more business away from U.S. plants and job shops. And unlike Michael Myers, China is a very tangible boogeyman.
As one of my colleagues recently observed, the problem is magnified by the fact that we don’t know, just yet, how big an impact China has had or will have on American manufacturing. Only when the smoke clears from the corporate scandals, terrorist attacks and stock market woes of the last two years will we be in a position to gauge just how bad the China problem is. The closest that anyone has come so far was the prediction by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, State, and the Judiciary that—based on current trends—the U.S. trade deficit with China will surpass $330 billion by 2008.
Finishers are not without options. Some have repurposed themselves in order to better appeal to companies that—often for the sake of quality—will not send parts offshore. Whereas foreign labor is an appealing option with regard to cost, high-quality-oriented projects tend to stay closer to home. Others have invested in new equipment, allowing them to expand their service offerings and explore new markets. Though one may argue that now isn’t the best time to invest in new equipment, some finishers clearly believe that they cannot afford not to invest in new technology.
When it comes to China, ignoring the problem is not the answer. And pushing for legislation that would limit the number of jobs that can be pushed offshore is only a partial answer. After all, anyone who has ever seen a “Halloween” film knows that running away from the boogeyman will only get you so far.
China got you spooked? Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.