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Manufacturing Returning to the U.S.

The other day I watched an online announcement by Nokia of a partnership with Sanmina in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin to rehab and expand an existing factory. The factory will create over two hundred new jobs and will manufacture fiber electronics like OLTs and ONTs that are used for fiber-to-the-premise. Vice President Kamala Harris was on hand for the announcement since the impetus to build a factory in the country was partially driven by Buy America provisions in the upcoming BEAD grants.

Nokia is not the only fiber-related manufacturer to expand production in the U.S. Corning announced the construction of a new fiber optic cable plant near Hickory, North Carolina. CommScope is building a new factory in Catawba, North Carolina.  Prysmian announced the conversion of a factory in Jackson, Tennessee from building copper cables to fiber cables.

A recent press release from the U.S. Department of the Treasury documents the big burst of investments in new factories. This is being funded, at least in part by infrastructure spending that came from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and the CHIPS Act.

The following chart comes from that Treasury press release and shows how 2023 spending for manufacturing facilities has doubled the average spending for 2005 – 2022. Most of the new spending is on computers, electrical, and electronic factories. The Treasury press release notes that 18 new chipmaking factories were started in the country in 2021 and 2022. But since the announcement of the CHIPs Act there are over 50 new chipmaking facilities underway.

This can only be good news for the broadband industry. First, it increases the chance to buy American electronics as part of fulfilling grants. But the real benefit is over the longer run. This means that a lot of U.S. electronics manufacturing will be able to rely on U.S. factories manned by U.S. employees.

I’m sure many of you join me in being dismayed for decades as U.S. manufacturing jobs were shifted overseas. We’ve seen a steady erosion of good-paying factory jobs and a decrease in households in the middle class.

Many of these new and repurposed factories don’t require as many new workers as older factories due to automation. But every new U.S. manufacturing job created is a win for the economy. This is a needed shot in the arm for the economy. We can’t run an economy where everybody is doing service jobs – although it looked at one time like that is where we were headed.

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