The phenomenon of nearshoring - the relocation of manufacturing production to countries that provide less expensive production processes and are closer to the end consumer - offers the potential for a mass return of jobs from China to the North American market, and will get under way sooner rather than later, says a manufacturing sector economist.

”A new study from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) posits that some 3 million jobs will return to the U.S. thanks to nearshoring,” says Dr. Chris Kuehl, economic analyst for the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International (FMA), Rockford, Ill.

In the current economic update newsletter, Fabrinomics, published by FMA, Kuehl reports the BCG study cites three factors expected to drive this process: the rising costs of production in China, the rising costs of transportation, and the improved efficiency and productivity in the United States and Europe.

“The first of these factors has become a major concern for the Chinese as there is no way to reverse that trend without creating some serious social unrest in China,” Kuehl says. “Wages and salaries have been going up fast in China –-estimates are that wages have risen by more than 1,000 percent in the coastal regions just in the last year or so.

“The Chinese are losing the cheap manufacturing sector to rivals in other parts of Asia and to the Latin nations like Mexico, where wages have risen by less than 25 percent. The BCG study shows that costs of production in China are going to rise inexorably in the coming years.”

In terms of reduced transportation costs, Kuehl said it is not just a matter of how much additional fuel is needed to ship goods from Asia to the markets in Europe and the United States, though that is an expense that will keep rising as energy costs go up.

“There also is the supply chain issue of speed and accuracy,” he explains. “It is far less reliable to ship by ocean cargo than by rail or truck, which gives an advantage to the producers that are on the same continent as their consumers.”

The third key factor for the return of production through nearshoring: the improvement in the productivity in the United States.

“The revolution in manufacturing is in technology and robotics, and it has been taking place for some time,” Kuehl says. “The U.S. manufacturer employs far fewer people than in the past, but the output is setting records. This has allowed the U.S. to compete globally for manufacturing business and it has allowed many in the U.S. sector to regain some business from overseas suppliers.”

 Kuehl notes the BCG study suggests that the United States can recapture jobs simply through attracting these manufacturers back to the United States and by encouraging new manufacturers to set up here.

“The inhibitions at this stage are seen as more political than economic,” he adds. “If the U.S. continues to approach trade in a hostile manner, the advantages will be wasted. If the regulations continue to discriminate against the manufacturer, the advantage will dissipate as well.