What happened, though, wasn't that manufacturing shut down; it shifted to higher margin products. TVs and mass-production stereos are low margin products. Amateur gear, for example, was higher end. It came under intense price competition from the Japanese companies, the so-called Big Three of Icom, Kenwood, and Yaesu, but high end ham gear from RL Drake, Rockwell Collins, and others continued to be made in the US long after most consumer electronics was overseas. There are still a host of smaller companies in America making and selling ham radio gear - along with high end audio gear, commercial radios, and all sorts of products that aren't amenable to turning on a production line and shipping millions of units.
I started my career at a company that made measurement and control peripherals for other manufacturing companies. They eventually sold these peripherals into the nuclear power industry. As such, they stressed ultimate reliability, and high-end, high-reliability electronics is the backbone of American manufacturing. I worked there six years. After that, I worked in DOD aerospace systems for a contractor for 13 years, followed with 20 at Major Avionics Corporation.
The point of this isn't to show off my 40 years in electronics; it's to point out how, despite the constant claims of the death of manufacturing America, there's a healthy electronics manufacturing sector in the US that's doing fine. There always has been and always will be a constant struggle to increase productivity - to always do more with less - but the sector is fine. Taken by itself, US manufacturing is the 9th largest economy in the world. That is, the manufacturing sector in the US produces more than the GDP of all but eight countries in the world (one of which is the rest of the US).
We're hearing a lot about this on the news these days, as an undercurrent to the chatter about North Korea. We can't put a pressure on China, the pundits say, what if they start a trade war? We'll have nothing in the stores! There would be a period of adaptation, but the profit motive is strong and I have no doubt things could start flowing.
The National Association of Manufacturers is the trade organization that gathers data on the manufacturing sector. Let me share a few bullet points. There are more on the NAM website - and I've edited these to try for a little brevity.
- In the most recent data, manufacturers contributed $2.18 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2016. This figure has risen since the second quarter of 2009, when manufacturers contributed $1.70 trillion.
- The vast majority of manufacturing firms in the United States are quite small. In 2014, there were 251,901 firms in the manufacturing sector, with all but 3,749 firms considered to be small (i.e., having fewer than 500 employees). In fact, three-quarters of these firms have fewer than 20 employees.
- There are 12.3 million manufacturing workers in the United States, accounting for 9 percent of the workforce. Since the end of the Great Recession, manufacturers have hired more than 800,000 workers.
- In 2015, the average manufacturing worker in the United States earned $81,289 annually, including pay and benefits. The ... average manufacturing worker earned nearly $26.00 per hour, according to the latest figures, not including benefits.
- Over the past 25 years, U.S.-manufactured goods exports have quadrupled.
- Manufacturers have experienced tremendous growth over the past couple decades, making them more “lean” and helping them become more competitive globally. Output per hour for all workers in the manufacturing sector has increased by more than 2.5 times since 1987. ... Note that durable goods manufacturers have seen even greater growth, almost tripling its labor productivity over that time frame.
- Over the next decade, nearly 3½ million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed, and 2 million are expected to go unfilled due to the skills gap. Moreover, according to a recent report, 80 percent of manufacturers report a moderate or serious shortage of qualified applicants for skilled and highly-skilled production positions.
- Manufactured goods exports have grown substantially to our largest trading partners since 1990, including to Canada, Mexico and even China. .. The United States enjoyed a $12.7 billion manufacturing trade surplus with its trade agreement partners in 2015, compared with a $639.6 billion deficit with other countries.
- World trade in manufactured goods has more than doubled between 2000 and 2014—from $4.8 trillion to $12.2 trillion. ... U.S. consumption of manufactured goods (domestic shipments and imports) equaled $4.1 trillion in 2014, equaling about 34 percent of global trade in manufactured goods.
- The cost of federal regulations fall disproportionately on manufacturers, particularly those that are smaller. Manufacturers pay $19,564 per employee on average to comply with federal regulations, or nearly double the $9,991 per employee costs borne by all firms as a whole. In addition, small manufacturers with less than 50 employees spend 2.5 times the amount of large manufacturers. Environmental regulations account for 90 percent of the difference in compliance costs between manufacturers and the average firm.
- Manufacturers in the United States perform more than three-quarters of all private-sector research and development (R&D) in the nation, driving more innovation than any other sector. R&D in the manufacturing sector has risen from $126.2 billion in 2000 to $229.9 billion in 2014. In the most recent data, pharmaceuticals accounted for nearly one-third of all manufacturing R&D, spending $74.9 billion in 2014. Aerospace, chemicals, computers, electronics and motor vehicles and parts were also significant contributors to R&D spending in that year.
I think that the most common manufacturing facility is going to look a lot less like a big car assembly line and a lot more like a Makerspace. Or hobby machine shop.