There are several reasons behind the trend. As China becomes more of a middle-class country, wages for its workers are rising, and that is lessening some of the appeal of manufacturing there for U.S. companies, says Steven Kaplan, a professor of entrepreneurship and finance at Chicago's Booth School. Over the past two decades, it was the cheaper labor in China that prompted businesses of all sizes to have everything from computers to clothes to food ingredients made in China.
The rising cost of fuel, which has made transporting goods more expensive, is another factor in onshoring.
"Manufacturing in the U.S. is relatively more attractive than it has been in 20 years," Kaplan says.
SKILLED WORKER SHORTAGEWhile companies' caution has weighed on the job market, many company owners who actually want to hire say it's hard to find workers to fill some positions. It's becoming more difficult to find people who have the skills they need, these owners say. Many new manufacturing jobs require high-tech skills. They include positions at factories where computers are used to create products like airplane parts and machinery. And some require several years of training, says Shane, the Case Western Reserve professor. For example: A company that makes metal molds which are in turn used to create automobile dashboards. That takes a machinist who knows cutting-edge processes to make the molds. "You cannot take someone off the street to do it," Shane says. Because of changing technology, owners are struggling to find qualified workers in 2013. "There's a whole level of work that's going to require skills that weren't needed in traditional jobs," says Arensmeyer. He notes that community colleges around the country are offering courses that will help train workers to fill these jobs. But training takes time, and the demand for jobs may continue to outstrip the supply of qualified workers.