joey tamer’s blog

strategic consultant to entrepreneurs in software,
internet, technology, and digital media

Offshoring, the new economics and the American middle class – a detailed look at Apple & Asia in the New York Times

Earlier this week, on Monday, I was out to dinner with friends at one of our local Santa Monica hang-outs, a rather funky neighborhood place with good food and lots of room, and quiet.

At 7:30, in an orderly assembly, 45 Asian teenagers arrived and filled the big booths with 6 kids each, both boys and girls.  Half the large restaurant was filled with these charming kids, about 14 years old.  Their leader was a dapper Asian gentleman around 50, who quietly (nearly silently) directed them to arrange themselves in their booths, and then left them to join 3 other adults at a separate table.  The kids ordered, ate, talked among themselves.  The adults had their dinner and did not interfere with them even once.

And the restaurant was as quiet as if they were not there.  The kids had a good time and enjoyed their food.  This was clearly a celebratory outing for them all.  I realized it was the Chinese New Year (Monday, January 23rd, 2012), the first evening of the year of the dragon, and that was the celebration.

And they in no way disturbed any of the other folks in the restaurant.  No acting out, no food fights, no discipline of any kind was required.  Upon our finishing our meal and leaving, my husband approached the leader, bowed slightly and complimented him on the exemplary behavior of his young charges.  The man was delighted, came over to the other 3 of us, bowed and shook our hands, beaming and saying thank you.

Now, I tell you this story because that morning I had read, online at the New York Times, about the economics of off-shoring manufacturing and logistics in Asia, by Apple and most other consumer electronics companies.  This article seems, at first, to be an indictment against Apple and others, but in fact quite clearly explains the cost/benefit realities of the Asian vs. the American workforce — the flexibility, the speed, the low cost, and the results achieved by off-shoring, when it is well-managed by Apple or others… and the lack of appropriate skilled workers at the required levels and the lack of training for such jobs within the U.S. workforce.

I have built a company in China, so I have some experience about both its changing economy and the working life of the Chinese, as well as the challenges its government faces in feeding 1.3 billion citizens.  I have been an entrepreneur in the U.S. for 25 years, so I know something about building businesses here too.

This article filled me with both excitement about the global marketplace, and with some dread for the U.S. workforce (at least in the short term).  My optimism about our resilience and flexibility, and the opportunities seen at other end of this period of major change, remains undaunted.

It is a long article, and worth reading every word.  The world has indeed flattened, and the realities of that change begin with this information.