If you’re designing a new product, one of the first decisions you’ll have to make is whether to work with a domestic manufacturer or outsource your production overseas. While offshore manufacturing has some advantages, there are many more benefits of local manufacturing that make it the superior option. In other words, if you have the choice between a Pacific Northwest manufacturer and a contract manufacturer from another country—or even another state—it’s almost always better to go local.
Why is this the case? Beyond feeling great about supporting a local Washington business, you’ll also gain a number of logistical and financial advantages. Local manufacturers often have greater supply chain stability, higher quality assurance, less waste, fair working conditions, and adherence to strict safety standards. So, before you look for an offshore manufacturer, see what options you have in the Seattle area first. This guide will help you locate local manufacturers and make an informed decision on who to partner with on your next project.
What Does It Mean to Be a Local Manufacturer?
One problem you might run into as you look for Pacific Northwest manufacturers is that not all manufacturers are as “local” as they seem. For example, many manufacturers operate small assembly warehouses or offices in the Seattle area, but the vast majority of their production is actually done offshore. There’s nothing wrong with a manufacturer outsourcing part of the manufacturing process to third parties, especially if they don’t have the resources or equipment needed to fabricate certain components. However, some “local” manufacturers do very little work on-premise, so you won’t gain any of the usual benefits of local manufacturing when you hire them.
Instead, look for a manufacturer that is transparent about its process and performs most tasks in-house. It’s extremely rare to find a manufacturer that can do everything under one roof, particularly if the manufacturer creates innovative new products or complex components. These often require specialized tools that the manufacturer may not have on-hand. Still, there are many advantages of working with a manufacturer that does almost everything in-house and informs you in advance if any aspect of the process needs to be outsourced.
With this in mind, if you’re based in Seattle, then a truly local manufacturer is any company that operates in the Pacific Northwest (preferably in the Seattle area and surrounding islands or suburbs) and that performs at least 90% or more of its manufacturing directly from a local plant or headquarters.
Now that you know what it means to be a Pacific Northwest manufacturer, you can take a closer look at what this partnership can do for you.
The Benefits of Local Manufacturing for New Product Inventors
It’s a myth that local manufacturing is costlier or less efficient than outsourcing production overseas. In fact, not only can local manufacturing be just as cost-effective and efficient, in some cases it’s even more so. There are five benefits of local manufacturing that you should strongly consider:
- Supply chain stability
- Quality assurance
- Waste management
- Working conditions
- Safety standards
Take a closer look at each of these benefits below to determine whether local manufacturing is the best choice for your product.
#1: Supply Chain Stability
Stabilizing the supply chain is often a primary goal for local manufacturers. Some participate in local-for-local manufacturing structures in which materials and other resources are sourced from companies operating nearby. This shortens the lead time on materials, as they don’t have to wait for materials to ship overseas. Local manufacturers can also avoid supply chain disruptions related to tariffs or customs inspections.
#2: Quality Assurance
If you’re creating a complex product that requires expert engineering, it’s a good idea to partner with a local manufacturer. For example, if you’re based in the Seattle area, you can meet with engineers to discuss your plans for the project in great detail. You can also receive and test prototypes the same day they’re made. This hands-on approach leads to higher quality products within a shorter product development timeline.
#3: Waste Management
Producing products locally requires less energy overall. Products and materials won’t have to be shipped as far, which reduces emissions. Some overseas manufacturers also require you to order a minimum number of products because the shipping process is more complex and costly and can be done at a lower cost in bulk. Local manufacturers often don’t have the same minimum order requirements, so you can produce at a smaller scale and not waste materials on excess product.
#4: Working Conditions
While many offshore manufacturers have safe and fair working conditions, some do not. It’s difficult to know exactly what the working conditions are like in a particular plant, as visiting these manufacturing plants in-person is a costly and time-consuming endeavor. When you work with a local manufacturer, you can see firsthand what the working conditions are like and rest assured that the manufacturer is following all current state and federal laws governing fair labor practices. If this is important to you, you should also consider working with a manufacturing company that is employee-owned.
#5: Safety Standards
This is related to working conditions but deserves its own category in the wake of COVID-19. Following the pandemic, it has been more difficult to manufacture products overseas due to supply chain disruptions, lockdown protocols, and long shipping delays. Working with a local manufacturer reduces some of these delays. It’s also easier to confirm with a local manufacturer that they are following all of the latest health and safety protocols outlined by OSHA. The best manufacturers in the Seattle area are completely transparent about their safety standards and precautions, and it’s easy to see which manufacturers are protecting the health of their employees and customers.
There are many other benefits of local manufacturing outside of these, however, these advantages are some of the most important to consider when you hire a contract manufacturer. They’re the factors that will help you maintain high expectations for workplace safety and get a quality product to market fast. To gain these advantages though, you’ll need to find a Pacific Northwest manufacturer that takes these factors seriously.
Finding Local Manufacturers Can Be Difficult
Manufacturing in the United States isn’t what it used to be. For example, according to this study, in 1997, local manufacturing accounted for 16% of the country’s total GDP; this steadily decreased to just 11% of the GDP in 2019. There’s still a healthy manufacturing industry in the United States (generating about $2 billion annually), but many manufacturers and business owners are outsourcing this work to other regions. These overseas manufacturers promise to produce the same quality product at a lower cost because they manufacture in larger quantities.
However, this system doesn’t work for many product inventors and small businesses. Not all inventors want to manufacture products on a large scale, so they typically won’t see any cost benefits when they outsource this process offshore. In fact, it can cost more due to shipping expenses, tariffs, and customs taxes. These businesses need a local manufacturer that is willing to work closely with them to design, prototype, and manufacture a high-quality product on a smaller scale.
Finding these manufacturers is a challenge, as there are relatively few of them in operation in major cities across the country. Yet there are a few reliable manufacturers still in operation that cater directly to local inventors and businesses. When you work with these manufacturers, not only are you supporting your community, but you’ll also get the one-on-one attention that your project and ideas deserve.
PRL is a full-service product development company that specializes in all aspects of production, from design to product fabrication and prototyping. Our experts are here to guide you through the full product development process, including the ideation, design, creation, and management of your product idea.