August 2011 | Commentary | Checking In

A Career That’s Never Boring

Tags: Global Logistics

Keith Biondo is the publisher of Inbound Logistics magazine.

Supply chain professionals are increasingly being asked to drive change outside their daily responsibilities of expanding to new countries, overcoming current economic challenges, and satisfying customers while keeping inventory and transportation costs low.

Here are two examples. A recent article described the closing of Chrysler Plant 6 in Windsor, Ontario. This could be one more symbol of manufacturing stress, but there is good news for our profession. With the help of logistics experts, this huge manufacturing plant is being transformed into a world-class logistics facility. The initial phase of re-tasking the massive site will cost more than $100 million and include a 750,000-foot warehouse for parts distribution and a pre-assembly area. I consider this project a symbol of what logistics professionals are capable of, beyond their obvious job descriptions.

Supply chain professionals help manufacturing outside their functional responsibilities in another way, as you'll read in Lisa Harrington's article, Is U.S. Manufacturing Coming Back?

The article's focus is on China and the presumed convergence with U.S. labor costs when the costs of the extended supply chain are factored in. In my May 2011 column, I wrote about the small trend of reshoring manufacturing facilities making products for domestic consumption and the Boston Consulting Group study that identified this trend. As Lisa's article explains, reshoring is not the right move for all companies—just those manufacturing for U.S. consumption in locations where current offshore labor rates are rising. Manufacturing in China still offers many labor, tax, and regulatory efficiencies. And, even if domestic labor costs converge with China's, another low-wage location is always standing by.

But, with the continuing collapse of the dollar, this trend could increase as the number of greenbacks demanded for off-shore wages will have to rise. There is already a move to warehouse and manufacturing automation in China. It could be time to focus your supply chain expertise on helping top management evaluate if domestic manufacturing holds any promise for your company.

We spent the better part of two decades configuring global supply chain networks that run as well as domestic ones, and positioning domestic production overseas. Now, fast-changing economic growth in some areas, and contraction in others, calls for yet more trading pattern upheaval. Your supply chain expertise will be valuable to upper management as they do their location risk/benefit analysis. That responsibility may be far afield from the original concept of logistics manager, but there you are.

Whether you manage a domestic or global logistics network, or are in the manufacturing sector or not, one thing is clear: you can help your company, and your career, by tackling some of these new supply chain challenges.