In February 2020, I said this about California manufacturing employment:
In sum, California is well-positioned for growth in the industries that promise to reshape U.S. manufacturing; to capture a higher percentage of the domestic jobs that do materialize in the 2020's. For every job lost in apparel manufacturing, others are materializing across the region. Will they materialize here?
Since then, we know that COVID-19 has accelerated trends that were favoring domestic manufacturing before the pandemic, and that California stands to benefit. Here, then, are five predictions for California manufacturing in 2021, a year that stands to end much better than how it's beginning, with a percentage guess as to the likelihood of each coming true:
1. Manufacturing's beachhead expands as more companies evaluate domestic production options
The local and regional manufacturing comeback we chronicle every month is now a national story. In "Five Predictions For The Manufacturing Industry in 2021," Forbes columnist Amar Hanspa belatedly forecasts:
We'll see a shift to localized production. In 2021, the industrial manufacturing sector will take a page from the consumer-driven "farm to table" trend that has taken hold in the agriculture industry over the last decade, with a shift to localized production. This will primarily be driven by the threat of ongoing trade war/tariffs threatening global supply chains, encouraging manufacturers to move production activity closer to the customer. In the future, manufacturers will want to build where they sell for several reasons, including faster time to market, lower working capital, government policies, and increased resiliency. This won't be an easy or overnight shift.
The "shift" is already underway. In California, that spells growth. The state is already an epicenter to companies in established industries like food, beverage, aerospace, and energy. Expect growth in new industries and sectors that have been more resistant to onshore production, like consumer and medical products, outdoor industry, and precision-machined parts.
Harry Moser, founder of the Reshoring Initiative and an authority on the economics of domestic production, ranked his top three sectors for CompanyWeek: "The hottest items in 2020 and 2021 are PPE and other medical products such as antibiotics," he says, noting that "60 percent of companies reshoring production since March 2020 mentioned COVID as one cause."
Moser continues, "Second, other essential or politically timely items with supply chain gaps, such as rare earth minerals, defense materiel, electronics, solar, and wind. Then, anything else now coming from China. Biden has said he will not end the China tariffs soon" -- meaning companies manufacturing in China will be in the hunt for domestic options.
It adds up to a growth year for U.S. -- and California manufacturing.
2. Free trade is dead
Even before COVID, tariffs exposed America's sub-par manufacturing supply chain, but more, the lack of a trade strategy. As The Wall Street Journal noted, Trump tariffs resulted in a mishmash of outcomes that benefitted well-connected companies, but left others wanting.
Forget the notion of unfettered globalization -- even for a top 10 global economy like California's. State officials should lobby for targeted protection in promising local industries like bioscience, where cheap and subpar Asian products handicap manufacturers and force healthcare buyers to choose products made offshore.
President-elect Joe Biden has signaled a renewed commitment to manufacturing through the invaluable NIST MEP network. It's a great start. California Governor Gavin Newsom and his team at the Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) must also take the lead on a regional plan that protects and accelerates promising manufacturing industries.
3. A small but influential cadre of pro-California manufacturers will push back on the relocation narrative
More a wish than a prediction, perhaps, but one silver lining from the steady stream of high-profile exits is that pro-CA companies begin to push back on the narrative.
And why not? As manufacturing's brand ascends, California’s manufacturing assets become more valuable. Its R&D ecosystem is second to none, spinning off both technologies and companies that are changing domestic production to the core. But the depth and expertise of businesses in CA’s supply chain, in key industries like aerospace and transportation, is the state’s unheralded attribute.
With such quality companies, captained by California advocates like Pamela Kan at Bishop-Wisecarver, and Hale Foote at Scandic (read Inside the Tesla supply chain: Hale Foote and Scandic), and others that comprise CompanyWeek’s cadre of California Leaders, manufacturing in California is in a position to make positive noise.
4. Workforce health will become big business, and manufacturers will play a leading role
Manufacturing's stock rose in '20 in part because U.S. companies rushed in to fill the void in PPE. The trend continues in '21 as manufacturers innovate to build solutions that keep our public places safe, but more, keep factories and consumer-facing production facilities like breweries and restaurants open.
It's the latest noble endeavor for a sector that built the arsenal of democracy and landed a man on the Moon. Coronaviruses have no chance.
5. The FDA will finally provide regulatory certainty for hemp cannabis producers -- and the cannabis industry will explode.
It's unfathomable that we lack official data as to how many employees work in the state's billion dollar cannabis industry; how many work in manufacturing vs. other functional areas; how many work at state-regulated, federally illegal THC producers vs. unregulated but federally legal hemp companies; or how much of the growth manifest in chemical or food manufacturing the past few years is attributable to cannabis.
When, in 2021, the FDA regulates hemp-derived CBD products as a dietary supplement or food additive (or both), California's cannabis ecosystem will leap forward, again. For suppliers and service companies, ambivalent about cannabis today, it will be too late to jump on the bandwagon. Get aligned, find industry partners, advocate for the Golden State's homegrown industry -- or watch from the sidelines.
Bonus forecast: CompanyWeek will report on 300 manufacturers in 2021
Here's how we can help your company in 2021: If you haven't been featured in CompanyWeek, send a note to Editor Eric Peterson to get on the editorial schedule.
The CompanyWeek "tribe" will expand in '21 and along with it, contact and connections with new business and trade partners.
Buh-bye '20. Hello '21.
Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach him at email@example.com.