Opinion

Can US companies solve the Trump tariff problem by manufacturing in the US? It’s complicated.

By Emily Stewart for Vox

Should United States companies just start making everything in the United States in light of President Donald Trump’s trade wars? Harley-Davidson president and CEO Matthew Levatich says it’s complicated — but once you leave, it’s hard to come back.

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To me, innovation comes from know-how,[Innovation] comes from the daily practice of doing something, and because you do something, you’re able to figure out how to do it better. And conversely, once you stop doing something, you no longer have the ability to be excellent at it, because you’re starting from scratch. And there are industries that have left the United States that would be difficult to resurrect here in the United States, certainly at scale.

Levatich, who was named president and CEO of the Milwaukee-based company in 2015, told Recode’s Kara Swisher at the 2019 Code Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Monday.

Levatich pointed to textiles, leather, and footwear as industries that left the US years ago and now probably can’t return easily. “Apparel is difficult to source at volume in the United States, because the know-how left decades ago, and you can’t snap your fingers and create it at scale,” he said.

When it comes to technology companies, the situation may be even more difficult. Trump, for example, has in the past called for Apple to do all of its manufacturing in the United States instead of China and demanded it “start building new plants now.” (As Vox explained last year, making the iPhone in the US would be pretty complicated.)

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