Apple Chief Executive Officer Timothy Cook revealed on NBC's Rock Center
news magazine Thursday that the company, which relies on factories in China to build its iconic products, will manufacture one of its existing lines of Macintosh computers in the United States.
Cook did not mention where the Mac would be built.
In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek
published Wednesday, Cook said Apple plans to invest more than $100 million to build the computers in the United States
At the same time, Foxconn, the Taiwanese manufacturer that makes the iPhone, iPad and other products in China, told Bloomberg
that it seeks to expand its manufacturing in the United States because many customers are requesting their products be made domestically.
The company has factories in California and Texas that make partially assembled products such as servers.
"Supply chain is one of the big challenges for U.S. expansion," spokesman Louis Woo said. "In addition, any manufacturing we take back to the U.S. needs to leverage high-value engineering talent there in comparison to the low-cost labor in China."
Foxconn's chairman said last month he wants to bring U.S. engineers to China to train them on how to assemble electronics in high volumes.
Manufacturing in the United States has shown signs of growth since the recession and several studies indicate that the outsourcing trend has reached its peak. A small, but significant, number of companies have moved some production back to the United States or to Mexico, the Caribbean or Central America because of concerns with long supply chains. Companies have achieved fewer savings because of rising labor rates in Asia, high fuel prices for shipping across continents, natural disasters and other supply chain disruptions, and difficulties ensuring production quality standards that meet customer expectations. They have also realized the benefits of having research and development in close proximity to the manufacturing site as well being closer to U.S. consumers. Research by The Hackett Group last summer suggested that companies are thinking about reshoring almost 20 percent of their production capacity in the next couple years.
The United States is also becoming more attractive for manufacturers because of the exchange rate and new, cheap sources of domestic oil and gas for chemical feedstocks and to run plants.
President Obama made economic patriotism a theme of his re-election campaign, proposing tax breaks for companies that manufacture at home and reducing tax breaks when they locate plants overseas.
Cook explained that the iPhone's processor is made in America and the glass on the phone is produced in Kentucky. The components are exported to China, where the phone is assembled.
The reason for using China as a manufacturing base, Cook said, has less to do with price than the skills gap in the United States. He claimed the U.S. education system is failing to produce enough people capable of running modern manufacturing processes.
It was Cook's first interview since taking over from his former boss, Steve Jobs, who co-founded the company and died last year.
Apple has been heavily criticized for using Foxconn to make its portable electronic devices, phones and computers after a series of suicides and protests by workers drew worldwide attention. The companies took steps to improve working conditions and this year Apple hired the Fair Labor Association to monitor working conditions at Foxconn.
The Fair Labor Association, a paid membership group, found poor factory conditions during an audit this year and Apple pledged to correct them.
Critics called Apple's announcement a gimmick.
"Apple has a track record of announcing changes in its supply chain as PR stunts," Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, executive director of corporate responsibility group SumOfUs
told U.K. magazine PC Pro
. "For years, Apple’s been making and breaking promises when it comes to ethical sourcing and how it treats its workers.
"Apple has spent $650 million just on advertising for the iPhone alone since it launched. They’re talking about spending less than 20 percent of that on this shift," she said. "Apple is talking about moving a tenth of 1 percent of its global production costs. That’s not at the level of a fundamental business model shift, (it's) a small token offering to appease consumers here in the U.S."
The New York Times
noted that the Mac represents a small portion
, less than 20 percent, of Apple's $36 billion in third quarter revenue. - Eric Kulisch