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A Factory Boom Is Finally Happening

A factory boom is finally happening

A factory boom is finally happening

President Obama tried to revitalize American manufacturing , with little to show for it . President Trump tried too , with similarly unimpressive results . Under President Biden, however, a manufacturing boom finally seems to be getting started. Since the beginning of 2022, construction spending on new factories has more than doubled, from an annualized rate of $91 billion in January 2022 to $189 billion in April 2023, the latest data available. That’s the biggest jump, by far, in data going back to 2002. In April, factory construction accounted for 9.9% of all construction, the highest portion in Census Bureau records going back to 1993. From 2010 through 2022, factory construction averaged just 5.7% of the total. Private-sector firms are building more US factories to cash in on an unprecedented spate of legislation Biden has signed providing federal funding and incentives for infrastructure development , a massive green-energy buildout , and a revitalized semiconductor industry . Three separate bills passed by the Democratic Congress in 2021 and 2022, and signed by Biden, will provide well over $1 trillion in federal spending, tax breaks, and other incentives meant to build more important products in the United States and reduce reliance on importers, mostly China. US manufacturing employment peaked in 1979, then began a long decline that intensified starting around 2000. That seemed okay for a while since the United States was increasingly becoming a service economy with an exploding technology sector. But by 2010 it was becoming apparent that lost manufacturing jobs were not being replaced by comparable service-sector jobs, with many former manufacturing hubs becoming economic backwaters . A big part of Trump’s 2016 campaign to “make America great again” was the promise of a revived manufacturing sector. FACTORY BOOM Construction spending on U.S. manufacturing facilities IN MILLIONS SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau via FRED • Figures represent seasonally adjusted annual rates PHOTO: Getty Images Trump’s main thrust was imposing tariffs on imports, mainly from China, that would make those goods more expensive in America and, in theory, make it more economically feasible to build competing products in the US market. It didn’t work, though. Many importers simply shifted to other countries not subject to the Trump tariffs, and the tariffs actually raised costs, rather than lowering them, for US manufacturers that needed components from China. Manufacturing employment grew by about 1% per year under Trump before COVID arrived in 2020, about the same as under Obama before Trump took office. There hasn’t yet been a notable uptick in manufacturing jobs under Biden—but there are signs that it’s coming, given the huge boost in factory construction. The , which tracks the relocation of manufacturing from overseas sites to domestic ones, says , the most, by far, since the group started tracking the issue in 2010. That’s more than four times the number of reshoring jobs announced in 2019, the last year before COVID. If Biden’s manufacturing revival fully materializes, as early indicators suggest, he’ll boast loudly of achieving what has stymied other presidents. But there are risks. Biden is steering the US economy into more aggressive “” than at any time in modern history, with the government, rather than market forces, determining where private capital flows. Biden and others say that’s necessary largely because of China, where a communist government harnesses the full power of the world’s second-largest economy to further its national interests. America must play by similar rules, the Biden logic goes. The danger is that powerful government incentives will lure private investment into favored fields and away from others that might generate more innovation and long-term economic growth, as economist Adam Posen of the Peterson Institute for International Economics . The Intl. Monetary Fund warns that Biden-style protectionism could cut global growth by 1 or 2 percentage points in the long term. There’s also the question of whether there are enough skilled workers to fill all the coming factories, given that the labor market is already tight.

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Daisie Hobson

Daisie Hobson is a Director at the Reshoring Institute and an engineer with many years of experience in manufacturing and project management.

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