After Ford scrapped plans for a new facility in Mexico and continues to flood the White House with press releases detailing normal course capital expenditures to be made on domestic plants, investments that would have been made irrespective of their outsourcing ambitions, it seems as though economics are making a comeback in guiding the capital allocations of other companies as ‘outsourcing’ is once again picking up steam among American companies.
Big announcement by Ford today. Major investment to be made in three Michigan plants. Car companies coming back to U.S. JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2017
As Bloomberg points out today, after a brief pause, consultants who help American companies relocate to Mexico are once again finding themselves flush with business.
But now the pace is picking back up. Illinois Tool Works Inc. will close an auto-parts plant in Mazon, Illinois, this month and head to Ciudad Juarez. Triumph Group Inc. is reducing the Spokane, Washington, workforce that makes fiber-composite parts for Boeing Co. aircraft and moving production to Zacatecas and Baja California. TE Connectivity Ltd. is shuttering a pressure-sensor plant in Pennsauken, New Jersey, in favor of a facility in Hermosillo.
While Trump hasn’t stopped pounding his America First bully pulpit, and the future of Nafta remains uncertain, “there’s cautious optimism and a hopeful attitude that cooler heads will prevail in Washington,” said Ross Baldwin, chief executive officer of Tacna Services Inc., which facilitates relocations.
Baldwin has seen the evidence: After business ground to a halt back in November, he’s now juggling two Mexico-bound clients. San Diego-based Tacna helps manage 4,500 workers in Mexico, where factory wages are about a fifth of those in the U.S. That may explain why Mexican manufacturing jobs rose 3.2 percent in January from a year ago as they dropped 0.3 percent in the U.S.
In the end, of course, the massive wage divide between the U.S. and Mexico means that, even with a border tax, it’s still cheaper to manufacture certain products in Mexico.
Moreover, we suspect that the renewed wave of outsourcing has been sparked, at lease in part, by Trump’s early failures to implement healthcare reform or impose his travel ban as companies grow increasingly comfortable that an import tariff will be harder to implement than the President once thought.
Businesses haven’t dismissed a Nafta renegotiation or policies being considered in Washington that might prove costly. A plan by House Republicans to implement a 20 percent border adjustment tax has raised concerns, especially among retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that import many of their wares. The tax would be applied to sales of imported goods to reduce the U.S. trade deficit, which reached $734 billion in 2016.
Trump repeated to a joint session of Congress last month his refrain that that he will make it “much, much harder for companies to leave our country.” But his recent stumbles — travel bans blocked by courts and a health-care bill scuttled by his own party — underscore the limitations on presidential power and the difficulty he may have punishing companies or overhauling Nafta.
While shocking, we suspect it’s simply never going to make sense to pay a UAW worker a fully-loaded wage $70 an hour to perform a low-skill task that someone else will do for less than $5 per hour.