James Fallows’ article, “Mr. China Comes to America” is the second of two in-depth examinations of U.S. manufacturing using offshore labor found in the December issue of The Atlantic. Like his counterpart, Charles Fishman, Fallows sees outsourcing to Americans as a growing trend for the manufacturing sector. In his vision of the future, the resurgence is spurred by small businesses with the entrepreneurial instinct to take on industry leaders and supported by a domestic workforce, including contract service organizations that provide employment to people with disabilities.
A manager named Linus Chung at the supply chain management company, PCH International, tells Fallows, “A revolution is coming to the creation of things, comparable to the Internet’s effect on the creation and dissemination of ideas.” Emerging technologies like 3-D printing have accelerated the product design and engineering phases, but offshoring the manufacturing slows the ability to bring those products to market, to test, and adjust. He writes:
The closer this linkage, the faster and more efficiently an idea can be converted to tangible, marketable reality. The more evolved and responsive the feedback loop, the more precisely an organization will be able to distinguish promising projects from impractical ones… [F]or the first time in decades, new tools are making it possible to develop this capacity for U.S. manufacturing. This means greater prospects for American innovators to convert their ideas into products — and jobs… [A]s one entrepreneur told me… ‘What Apple has, internally, will now be available to smaller companies.’
For an archetype of this closer linkage, Fallows points to is SFMade, a nonprofit association connecting business startups in and around San Francisco, California, with local companies that have the skilled workforce to produce the products. Among its members that provide contract manufacturing labor is Disabled Employees Rehabilitation, Inc, which offers assembly, packaging, and fulfillment services to the business community.
San Francisco is an ideal location due to its existing knowledge base and venture capitalists searching for the next big innovation. But every modern American city has a similar opportunity to find commonalities in its resources and use it to build a vibrant economy, says Fallows. (Another example he offers is Brooklyn, which has carved out a niche in light manufacturing.)
To that end, SFMade is part of a national network of organizations called the Urban Manufacturing Alliance committed to “working in cities to sustain and grow the local manufacturing sector.” Boston is one of the 16 cities involved in this alliance that was just founded back in 2011, raising hope that more contract manufacturing jobs will become available to people with disabilities in our community in the not too distant future.
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