Apple CEO Tim Cook's announcement earlier this month that the company will start building Macs closer to home in 2013 was seen as a milestone that could help jump-start U.S. manufacturing.
But over the past few years, factories in the American South from the Carolinas to Alabama to Kentucky have already experienced such are birth.
Both U.S. and foreign companies have opened plants in south eastern states in recent years, many since the end of the recession.Others are expanding existing plants or have plans to break ground in 2013.
General Electric is once again making water heaters and refrigerators at its gigantic Appliance Park plant in Louisville, Ky. A Mobile, Ala., 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.
Over the past year, North Carolina's Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco says about 80 percent of the new companies coming to the state involved some form of manufacturing. "That's a big number for us, and the jobs are better than they were," he said.
Companies are taking advantage of state- and local-funded business incentives and convenient transportation routes, as well as the Southeastern U.S.'s lower cost of living and a largely non-union labor force that's inexpensive relative to other parts of the country.
Although hundreds of thousands of factory jobs have disappeared in the South and across the country over the past two decades due to automation and outsourcing to cheaper labor markets in China, Vietnam and elsewhere, the United States remains a manufacturing powerhouse.
The country still produces 18.2 percent of the world's manufactured goods, edging out China's 17.6 percent, according to the latest figures from the National Association of Manufacturers and World Bank.
Today, however, even Chinese companies are building factories in the Southeast, ducking rising labor costs at home, and to be closer to customers and take advantage of the region's pro-business policies.One of the first was appliance maker Haier Group, which opened a $40 million refrigerator factory in Camden, S.C., a dozen years ago.
One of the latest is Lenovo Group, which operates a fulfillment center in Whitsett, N.C. In October, Lenovo announced plans to begin making ThinkPads there in 2013, adding an estimated 115 jobs to an existing workforce of 2,200.
While factory jobs haven't returned to pre-recession levels,they're getting there. In Georgia and Tennessee, manufacturing employment grew 3 percent in the 12 months ending in October, nearly twice the national average of 1.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Factory employment was above average in Alabama (2.9 percent), South Carolina (2.4 percent) and Mississippi (2 percent) as well.
"It's a business climate like you won't find anywhere else,"says Doug Woodward, an economics professor at the University of South Carolina and incoming president of the North American Regional Science Council, which studies local economies.