How Apple Can Prosper and Create U.S. Jobs Even With Overseas Assembly

| About: Apple Inc. (AAPL)

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In the Journal of International Commerce and Economics' current issue, there's an excellent article titled "Innovation and Job Creation in a Global Economy: The Case of Apple’s iPod" (full paper here - pdf). Here's the paper's abstract:

"Globalization skeptics argue that the benefits of globalization, such as lower consumer prices, are outweighed by job losses, lower earnings for U.S. workers, and a potential loss of technology to foreign rivals. To shed light on the jobs issue, we analyze the iPod, which is manufactured offshore using mostly foreign-made components. In terms of headcount, we estimate that, in 2006, the iPod supported nearly twice as many jobs offshore (27,250, see chart above) as in the United States (13,920). Yet the total wages paid in the United States ($746 million, see chart above) amounted to more than twice as much as those paid overseas ($318 million). Driving this result is the fact that Apple keeps most of its research and development (R&D) and corporate support functions in the United States, providing thousands of high-paid professional and engineering jobs that can be attributed to the success of the iPod. This case provides evidence that innovation by a U.S. company at the head of a global value chain can benefit both the company and U.S. workers."

From the paper's conclusion:

"When innovative products are designed and marketed by U.S. companies, they can create valuable jobs for American workers even if the products are manufactured offshore. Apple’s tremendous success with the iPod and other innovative products in recent years has driven growth in U.S. employment, even though these products are made offshore. These jobs pay well and employ people with college degrees. They are at the high end of what might be considered middle class jobs and appear to be less at risk of vanishing from the United States than production jobs."

Part of the current and future strength of America’s manufacturing sector could be explained by the global shift in manufacturing that has leveraged the relative cost advantages of shifting low-end production and assembly to low-wage countries like China, while advanced economies and companies in the U.S. like Apple have increasingly specialized in the research, design and marketing of products like the iPod. China’s focus on labor-intensive, low-skill, and low-value-added assembly of manufactured goods has allowed America to become even more competitive in the higher-end, higher-skilled manufacturing design and engineering in areas like electronics, aerospace, pharmaceuticals and medicine, industrial machinery, medical and scientific equipment and supplies, computers, software and semi-conductors, and oil and natural-gas equipment.

The case study of Apple's iPod illustrates the reality that U.S. manufacturing in the 21st century will be increasingly focused on the high-tech, high valued-added, high-skilled, research-intensive, high-paying aspects of manufacturing, with the production and assembly taking place elsewhere. U.S. manufacturing is alive and well, it's just strategically shifted higher up the value chain.

Update: Based on 2010 sales revenue, America's computer industry [including Apple, Hewlett Packard Co. (NYSE:HPQ), Microsoft, (NASDAQ:MSFT) etc.] is the second largest U.S. manufacturing sector, behind "Petroleum and Coal Products," and is almost four times larger than the ninth-ranked motor vehicle industry and more than twice as large as "aerospace and defense." Keep in mind that most of America's computer companies didn't even exist until the 1970s or 1980s, and that high-tech manufacturing industry is now much larger than the traditional sectors of manufacturing like machinery, motor vehicles and electrical equipment.