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Apple Mac To Be Made In USA

Apple shareholders may not be thrilled, but Apple's decision to make some Mac computers in the U.S. will bring more jobs, training to domestic workers.

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Apple plans to shift production of one of its Mac computers from China to the United States in 2013, a move that may mute criticism of labor practices at its contract manufacturers in China, please customers who have expressed a preference for American-made goods and hearten business leaders who have decried the decline in American industry.

"We've been working for years on doing more and more in the United States," Apple CEO Tim Cook said to NBC's Brian Williams in a TV interview. "Next year, we will do one of our existing Mac lines in the United States."

That's a relatively insignificant portion of the products Apple makes. In the quarter that ended September 29, 2012, Apple sold 4.9 million Macs, far fewer than the 26.9 million iPhones sold. Even so, Cook noted that certain iPhone components, like its glass screen, are already made in the U.S. and shipped abroad for assembly.

Williams asked what a shift to U.S.-based manufacturing would do to the price of an iPhone, a question based on the assumption that goods can be manufactured for less abroad than in the U.S.

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Cook responded that the issue isn't price so much as it is skills. "Over time there are skills associated with manufacturing that have left the U.S.," he said, noting that the education system in the U.S. has stopped producing workers with the necessary manufacturing skills and suggesting that Apple's move would help revive manufacturing education programs.

While Apple's reliance on Asian manufacturing over the past decade has contributed to its unprecedented financial success, some organizations have been critical of the cost. Beyond the concerns raised by labor-rights advocates about labor practices at Apple's suppliers in China, the Asian Development Bank Institute, a think tank based in Japan, published a paper two years ago arguing that the iPhone contributes to the U.S. trade deficit with China, and that moving iPhone manufacturing to the U.S. would better fulfill Apple's corporate responsibility obligations.

"Giving up a small portion of profits and sharing them with low-skilled U.S. workers by Apple would be a more effective way to reduce the U.S. trade deficit and create jobs in the U.S.," the paper stated.

The cost to Apple would be lower (but still healthy) margins, which might not please shareholders but would benefit the U.S. economy.

Researchers from the University of Manchester's Center for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) made a similar argument in a paper published in April.

"In an earlier generation, 'what was good for GM in Detroit was good for America' but now Apple's success from California is mostly good for the stock price in a sterile way because (like other insecure tech giants) Apple hoards cash and does little for U.S. economy and society because its products add to the U.S. payments deficit and the company does not employ well paid blue collar workers in the U.S.," the CRESC paper said.

The researchers estimated that an iPhone 4 assembled in the U.S. would raise the approximately eight-hour labor cost for assembly from $7.10 in China to $165.67, based on a $21/hour wage in the U.S., increasing the iPhone's manufacturing cost from $178.45 to $337.01. This would reduce Apple's gross margin from $451.55 (71.7%) to $292.98 (46.5%), based on a $630 list price.

The paper argued that were Apple to pursue domestic manufacturing of the iPhone, the company would still have respectable gross margins and the U.S. economy would benefit from job creation. "U.S. assembly would be worse for Apple shareholders, but more beneficial for the U.S. economy instead of higher corporate profits with few sharing in this outcome," the paper said.

Adam Leaver, senior lecturer in business analysis at the University of Manchester School of Business and co-author of the CRESC paper, said in a email that on the surface, Apple's announcement appears to be a positive development, though the devil is in the details, such as how the $100 million the company is reportedly committing to ramp up U.S. manufacturing will be spent.

Leaver doesn't see Apple's exploration of U.S.-based manufacturing as a trend. He sees the company as a unique brand that thrives as a result of its customers' passionate commitment to the company, the way fans become emotionally invested in a pop band or sports team.

"This was always Apple's seductive appeal, but also a source of fragility because buyers don't want to see the suicides, explosions and deaths when they gaze at the glass-front of their device," Leaver said, referring to the labor problems that have been reported at Apple's manufacturing partner Foxconn. "They don't want their lifestyle to be associated with such things. So for Apple there is perhaps greater pressure than other firms to resolve this emerging tension between their operating model and the marketing model; between the unpleasant reality of cost control and the imagined associations around the brand. Apple is trying to resolve this tension (or at least allay consumer fears about this tension) with this latest strategic announcement."

Even if Apple's move doesn't herald a broader rival of U.S. manufacturing, Leaver sees the move as broadly beneficial because it will create jobs.

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User Rank: Apprentice
12/8/2012 | 4:50:35 PM
re: Apple Mac To Be Made In USA
Come on, $21 an hour for an assembler, make that more like $9 or less an hour.
If they would bring back electronics into the schools that would be a start for kids to become educated in (I think a today's necessity) technology. I had the luck to be able to go to to a public school which offered electronics in both Junior and senior high!
They care more for the college prep and sports that teaching the nuts and bolts of technology!
Who is going to repair all this fine technology? Oh wait, we just throw it away and buy new when it fails! It's no wonder the Asians are jumping ahead of us! We better start learning Chinese real soon for they will OWN the US in time!
User Rank: Apprentice
12/7/2012 | 8:27:52 PM
re: Apple Mac To Be Made In USA
Foxconn (Apple's Chinese contract manufacturer) has separately announced plans to expand their North American manufacturing capability. One would presume this in in support of Apples plans...

To be seen whether these new jobs will be either plentiful or of a living wage.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
12/7/2012 | 7:14:31 PM
re: Apple Mac To Be Made In USA
Even if Apple's motives may not be pure, it's nice to see a U.S. company doing something that will improve the U.S. employment outlook and will help sustain manufacturing expertise stateside.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/7/2012 | 7:05:46 PM
re: Apple Mac To Be Made In USA
Don't be so quick to be fooled by Apple's token nod to critics of their offshoring program.

Apple led the way to overseas manufacturing leading up to - and certainly accelerating after - the crash. They (along with practically every other company) have been chasing the lowest cost, least restrictive means to get their products made. Talk about human rights abuses and environmental disaster...

This grand experiment in offshoring has been a colossal failure for everyone except for the companies themselves. In the US, we have lost jobs, we have lost know how, and we have lost the once great competitive edge that we had.

Lastly, I am disgusted by Cook's comments that Apple sought offshore talent for manufacturing because we (the US) didn't have educated people here to do it. Nothing could be further from the truth. And to hear him use that excuse makes me want to puke.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/7/2012 | 7:04:32 PM
re: Apple Mac To Be Made In USA
This is just about money. Apple has no ideology that loves America so much that it will keep jobs in America. As JVC says, there are now tax breaks for companies to keep a certain number of jobs in America. And this is a marketing ploy. The amount of American to Overseas jobs is ridiculously small. Apple is losing it's market share to Android, down 34% to Android's 54%. Tie in their less than innovative designs lately, coupled with their bad management decisions from everything from software to VP's; and Apple is starting to get a bit desperate. We'll have an iPhone 5S in less than 6 months...that says a lot of how this is going to go.
Bob Gill
Bob Gill,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/7/2012 | 6:25:37 PM
re: Apple Mac To Be Made In USA
This is a Godsend and Apple is leading the way. Hopefully, companies like GM, Ford and Boeing will start doing manufacturing in the USA.

In reading reports about this, you'd think Apple is leading to way to bring manufacturing back to the USA. There are 10M people involved in manufacturing in the USA.

Even Intel has thousands of people doing manufacturing in the USA.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/7/2012 | 5:01:15 PM
re: Apple Mac To Be Made In USA
There are two benefits to Apple not mentioned in the article: (1) protection of trade secrets, and (2) changes in forthcoming tax laws to bring businesses back to America
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