Offshoring: A thing of the past?

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Steve Crosby, a senior managing director of the securities and investment practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers, says Corporate America’s massive wave of off-shoring could come to a grinding halt. Rather so-called “near-shoring” will regain vogue status in these tough economic times. Call it a more benign version of Buy American.

“People are making some hard-nosed decisions about what it costs to go to India when wages are up 30% in the last 18 months,” says Crosby. Crosby believes that companies are now waking up to the unforeseen burdens of off-shoring: namely hidden travel costs and new onerous taxes that some local tax authorities are levying on U.S. companies operating within their borders.

A near-shoring trend would be a major shift indeed: Gartner Research predicted business process outsourcing would grow 10.5% year over year between 2007-2012--reaching $55.9 billion in outsourced operations by 2012. And an IDC report shows that offshore outsourcing in financial services generated $30 billion in revenue and has grown by 25% over past two years. The same report estimates total worldwide business process outsourcing in all industries reached $168.5 billion in revenue.

Still there may be some nifty incentives to keeping stateside. Given the economic crisis, U.S. cities and states are resorting to rich statutory tax credits and negotiated economic incentives to induce corporate taxpayers to locate or expand operations in their backyard. As a result, Crosby bets that more companies will reconsider plans to expand back office or manufacturing overseas. “There’s a harder business case to make,” adds Crosby. “Local government is [trying] to keep jobs in the U.S. to regenerate the rustbelt, and so it’s no longer a linear exercise to move the business to India or Malaysia."

Crosby sites a report that notes the average U.S. worker is more productive than others around the globe: According to the Key Indicators of the Labor Market report from the International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency, the average U.S. worker adds $63,885 of value per year to corporations that employ them, ahead of Ireland, for instance, at $55,986 per year. Could be a selling point, he says.

A PWC report that Crosby co-authored discussing the near-shoring trend cites some examples: IBM’s plans for a new center in Iowa will employ up to 1,300 (their biggest new facility in a decade). Goldman Sachs’ expansion in Salt Lake City will create 700 jobs. The New York bank got a $20 million incentive as a tax rebate over 20 years to add 375 jobs paying higher than the city’s median annual income.

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