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Tuesday, Feb 12, 2013 11:29pm
Apple's US manufacturing plans merit brief SOTU mention
President Obama mentioned Apple's plan to bring some Macintosh manufacturing back to the US in his State of the Union message on Tuesday evening. Speaking before a joint gathering of Congress, the Supreme Court justices and other dignitaries, the President highlighted Apple, Intel, Ford and Caterpillar as some of the companies that are "bringing jobs back" from various countries. Apple CEO Tim Cook was in the audience as a guest of First Lady Michele Obama.

Cook had previously told interviewers, investors and analysts that the company was planning to bring some Mac manufacturing -- or at least "one line of Macs," currently thought to be the Mac mini -- to the United States. Cook has reminded pundits that Apple already makes some iPhone components -- including the processor and glass screen -- in the US, to say nothing of the enormous international but heavily US-based "app economy" created out of thin air by Apple with the introduction of the App Store. Apple estimates nearly 300,000 US jobs have been created via the iOS and Mac app platforms.

Obama said that "after shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 [manufacturing] jobs over the past three years." The rise in manufacturing jobs is true, but the decline has been going on for much longer than the past decade: most administrations and Congress since the 1980s have worked to give corporations tax incentives to ship jobs overseas in pursuit of a lower-cost labor force, which has cost whole industries -- from steel to textiles as well as home electronics and most famously, nearly the US automobile and steel industries -- their ability to remain viable in the United States.

China and other countries offer advantages above and beyond a cheap pool of workers; environmental and building regulations, health and safety standards and other such points of law are of a much lower standard than in more developed nations, making it both faster and cheaper to develop manufacturing companies overseas. This has resulted in both lower prices for goods and a lower inflation rate for America, but at a cost of hundreds of thousands of jobs -- most of which paid reasonably well. The effect on what used to be called "the middle class" has been staggering.

The President continued, saying that "Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. After locating plants in countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home ... and this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again." Cook has mentioned on several occasions that it isn't really possible to make other devices -- such as the iPad and iPhone -- in America due to a combination of practical factors, including too little capacity in the remaining US-based "tool & die" industry.

However, the company has been doing some final assembly of iMacs in the United States, and rumors have circulated of expanding chip manufacturing plants being built in the US, if not by Apple than by its partners. It isn't yet known how many jobs a Mac production line would create in the US, but Apple already contributed over 307,000 direct or related US jobs in its current operation, and has more than 50,000 Apple employees. It has also been creating a number of construction and infrastructure jobs through its expansion plans, including new data centers, expanded campuses and a new worldwide headquarters set to open in late 2015.