I'm in the lens-making business. One of our products is up for quotations, and in researching it we found material from a Chinese company was one tenth the cost of the same material from an American company. This means they can make a finished lens for less than we pay for the raw material. Before you start thinking about expensive union labor in the American shop, let me tell you that I know the shop, and that it is definitely not the case. They are middle-of-the-road for our industry. So where do the huge differentials occur? Our little mom and pop operation cannot compete with China, full stop.
I figure I would have to go back to my first job, circa 1975, to achieve the equivalent pay-cut.
We have survived this long because we achieve a certain amount of protection from government contracts which cannot be made overseas. But those contracts have become so technically demanding as to eliminate all but a few selected vendors. Small operations without corporate support virtually cannot play any more.
We have survived this long because the quality of the off-shore products was, for a long while, pretty terrible. But they are learning and adapting, and purchasing the same equipment, so there is no longer any great difference in quality. So even with huge fuel costs, they can still ship lenses here more cheaply than we can make them.
So. What is the future of manufacturing in America? I'm not ready to retire yet.