Southeast: The United States' New Manufacturing Center?

Over the last several years, manufacturing has grown significantly in the Southeast, helping to drive the United States’ manufacturing renaissance.

The 228,000 sq ft building in Roswell, GA, that will house GM's new innovation center.
The 228,000 sq ft building in Roswell, GA, that will house GM's new innovation center.

A great deal of controversy has surrounded the shift of manufacturing to the United States’ Southeastern areas from its historic strongholds in the Midwest and Northeast. Much of that controversy has focused on the fact that most Southern states getting these new facilities are “right to work” states, which makes it difficult for unions to form. And while that fact has certainly played a role in companies’ decisions to locate in the Southeast region, other factors such as tax breaks, transportation benefits, proximity to technical centers such as the Georgia Institute of Technology and Research Triangle Park, as well as quality of life are also cited as reasons behind the manufacturing boom in the Southeast. recently posted an article on this topic that listed the following examples of the South’s new manufacturing expansion:

• Boeing builds 787 Dreamliners just north of Charleston, S.C.
• Starbucks roasts coffee beans in St. Matthews, outside Columbia, S.C.
• General Electric is once again making water heaters and refrigerators at its gigantic Appliance Park plant in Louisville, KY. (See a recent blog post of mine addressing re-shoring that mentioned this facility.)
• A Mobile, AL, shipyard run by Austal USA is growing so quickly that in the past two years the Australian company’s workforce has swollen from 800 to 3,300.
• Lenovo Group Ltd., which operates a fulfillment center in Whitsett, N.C., announced in October that the company would begin making ThinkPads there in 2013.

And living in Alpharetta, GA, in the north Atlanta metro area, I saw an article in a local paper (Alpharetta-Roswell Revue & News) that General Motors recently purchased a 228,000-sq.-ft. building (formerly home to UPS Information Technology and Herman Miller manufacturing) in Roswell, GA. The building will be one of four of GM’s technology innovation centers tasked with creating new GM technologies. The article says GM will rely on these innovation centers “rather than depend on outside sources for vehicle technology, such as improved GPS systems and safety features.”

If this move pans out for GM, it could serve as a possible milestone for yet another manufacturing renaissance — the return of functions inside a company rather than outsourcing anything viewed as a non-core activity, which has been the clear trend over the past two decades.

I have more interviews planned in the next few weeks to address this topic further. If you have any questions I should be asking the interviewees about the growth of manufacturing in the Southeast, and the Atlanta area in particular, please let me know.

In the meantime, check out the video below from, which focuses on the massive shipbuilding activities occurring in Alabama at the Austal USA site.

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