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Saturday, Feb 4, 2023

The Comforts of Home

It is the material of stump speeches at election time, of socially-conscious films or songs, and of angry comments on talk radio or some blogs. The United States, the refrain goes, has lost its manufacturing edge; companies are heading to Mexico, China or other foreign locales in search of cheaper labor to cut their costs leaving behind empty factories and shattered working lives. The latter cannot be argued when it comes to high-volume consumer products but to say that the U.S. cannot make it anymore would be news to the companies in Southern California choosing to keep their manufacturing in the country for reasons of quality control, staying close to the supply chain or protecting intellectual property. Yes, manufacturing jobs eroded over the decades and the ongoing global economic mess adds to the woes as companies shed more workers. The loss of manufacturing jobs is expected to accelerate in Los Angeles County in the next two years as it drops by 28,000 positions, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. A bright side to the poor economy is that it will make companies reconsider operating in foreign countries because the capital needed to get started has dried up. Those companies staying in the U.S. have learned to be more productive with fewer workers and can offer better paying jobs to those with the right skills. <!– National: Flags of worker homelands adorn Moore space. –> National: Flags of worker homelands adorn Moore space. The value of manufactured goods made in the U.S. hit $1.6 trillion in 2007. California continues to lead the nation in manufacturing, a legacy from the heavy concentration of aerospace companies once located in the state. The days of mass-producing clothing and toys are over and the Chinese have won. To stay competitive the American companies need to innovate and develop products not so easily transferred overseas. “The non-commodity item that has a unique process or some desirable characteristic that we can control and deliver quickly, there is still a huge manufacturing requirement for that,” said David Braunstein, president and chief executive of California Manufacturing Technology Consultants. Markets showing strength in the greater Valley region are medical devices and commercial and military aerospace. Medical devices in particular are picking up because demand has not slowed. Protecting emerging technologies and a strict need for quality control keeps the manufacturing in the U.S., especially when the companies get to a quality level that is difficult if not impossible to maintain at a plant thousands of miles away. “They (the companies) want to know that if there is a problem that it can be nipped in the bud,” said Keith Rypka, director of the Center for Applied Competitive Technologies at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita. The Santa Clarita Valley has become a hotbed for high-tech manufacturing particularly in medical devices. Stellar Microelectronics, for instance, illustrates the strength of that market with a new, larger manufacturing facility for its electronic devices and a push to hire more workers. Compare that to Easton Sports Inc. who two years ago ceased making softball, baseball, hockey and bicycling equipment in Van Nuys and transferred that work to China at a cost of 250 local jobs. Company executives said the move was necessary to keep step with competitors who already relocated to Asia. Moore Industries, a North Hills manufacturer of process automation devices, at one time had done its own overseas expansion, opening plants in England, Australia and Mexico to make testing equipment and hand tools. With a local presence company founder, President and CEO Leonard Moore figured it would make the equipment more desirable in foreign markets. The decision made sense in the short term but then as foreign sales took off having the local presence wasn’t so important anymore as most of the investment went to direct labor. “After a while that became a large expense as the volume grew,” Moore said. So Moore eliminated the foreign plants (which had been leased) and brought it all in-house in the Valley. An investment in automated equipment makes it easier for the company to compete and maintained its overseas sales. Moore Industries, however, does not emphasize that its products are made in the U.S. considering that there is still a fair amount of nationalism in the world, Moore said. “We take the middle ground,” Moore added. “Sometimes I have been tempted to do that.”

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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