By Thomas Black / Bloomberg
After Donald Trump’s election, the flow of manufacturers setting up shop south of the border dwindled to a trickle. Ford Motor Co. and Carrier Corp., caught in Trump’s Twitter crosshairs, scrapped plans to move jobs to Mexico in two very public examples of the slowdown.
But now the pace is picking back up. Illinois Tool Works will close an auto-parts plant in Mazon, Illinois, this month and head to Ciudad Juarez. Triumph Group is reducing the Spokane, Wash., workforce that makes fiber-composite parts for Boeing Co. aircraft and moving production to Zacatecas and Baja California. TE Connectivity is shuttering a pressure-sensor plant in Pennsauken, N.J., in favor of a facility in Hermosillo.
While Trump hasn’t stopped pounding his America First bully pulpit and the future of Nafta remains uncertain, “there’s cautious optimism and a hopeful attitude that cooler heads will prevail in Washington,” said Ross Baldwin, chief executive officer of Tacna Services, which facilitates relocations.
Baldwin has seen the evidence: After business ground to a halt back in November, he’s now juggling two Mexico-bound clients. San Diego-based Tacna helps manage 4,500 workers in Mexico, where factory wages are about a fifth of those in the U.S. That may explain why Mexican manufacturing jobs rose 3.2 percent in January from a year ago as they dropped 0.3 percent in the U.S.
The renewed exodus shows how difficult it will be for Trump to turn the macroeconomic tide just by jawboning alone.
Trump’s plans to renegotiate Nafta and talk of punitive tariffs can’t erase the need to manufacture in lower-cost countries, said Alan Russell, CEO of El Paso-based Tecma Group., which also helps open and operate factories in Mexico.
“This isn’t about taking jobs from the U.S. — It’s about saving companies.”