Wednesday, Jul. 02, 2008

Globalized Jobs Return Home

The world suddenly seems big again. A family of four can't fly cross-country for much less than $2,000. The cost of shipping a standard 40-ft. (12 m) container of couches from Shanghai to New Jersey has tripled since 2000. Trucking carrots from Mexico to Georgia makes less and less economic sense.

When John Smith started a high-end furniture company in Washington in 2003, he couldn't make everything in the U.S. and stay competitive. So his company, Willem Smith, started operations in Vietnam and Ecuador. He found himself visiting factories 11 time zones away from his four small daughters.

By last year, the cost of making and importing one of his favorite pieces, the Caballero chair, was ballooning. He was shipping Italian leather to Vietnam and then shipping the large chair back to the States. There were other problems too, like inflation in Vietnam. So last January, Willem Smith "repatriated" the Caballero to Hickory, N.C. That shift helps contain shipping costs and has other perks. "People are happy to buy American," Smith says. "And it felt kind of nice to bring this one home."

In more industries, such as steel, lawn-mower batteries and upscale furniture, doing business in the U.S. is starting to look slightly more feasible.

With reporting by Maya Curry