Rural America’s New Industrial Revival: Reshoring-Ready

Rural communities are attracting corporate investment attention, and many have already made moves to deliver what companies need to succeed.

By Robert Harrington, MPA, MEDP

After decades of offshoring manufacturing jobs to lower-cost countries, a new economic renaissance is taking shape across the heartlands of rural America. Driven by a renewed focus on supply chain resilience, deglobalization pressures, and incentives for domestic production, major companies are increasingly “reshoring” operations back to the United States.

This industrial revival is bringing a surge of advanced manufacturing investment, job creation, and economic development to small towns and rural regions nationwide. However, it also presents a distinct set of workforce, infrastructure, and placemaking challenges communities must proactively address.

Companies are shifting how they evaluate potential locations for new facilities. Cost and labor availability alone are no longer enough. They want assurances that a community can provide the talent pipeline, quality of life amenities, and business-friendly environment necessary for long-term success.

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Photo: Adobe Stock/olmax1975

Among the top considerations for reshoring companies is access to a skilled, sustainable labor pool. Rural areas must enhance vocational training, nurture education-workplace partnerships, and develop strategies for attracting and retaining the next generation of industrial workers.

The harsh reality is that many rural places have not kept pace with evolving workforce needs as manufacturing grew more technologically sophisticated. Companies need more than just semi-skilled labor – they require mechatronics experts, robotics technicians, logistics professionals, and more. Building that pipeline of talent will be crucial.

Quality of life factors like affordable housing, childcare, recreation, arts/culture, and overall community vibrancy heavily influence where young professionals choose to live and work. Rural areas must invest in placemaking that enhances livability and promotes the small-town experience as an asset.

Companies universally emphasize their desire to locate in communities that provide employees and families with an exceptional living experience beyond just punching a timeclock. Creating those environments is incumbent upon rural leaders.

Aging infrastructure poses a significant hurdle for many rural communities vying for reshoring projects. Manufacturers need modern utility systems, roadways, rail service, and shovel-ready sites to accommodate complex operations. Creative funding solutions through public-private partnerships, grants, tax measures, and programs will be vital.

Infrastructure shortcomings have hindered too many rural towns from capitalizing on reshoring opportunities. However, more communities are getting proactive by dedicating resources to develop shovel-ready sites, improve logistics corridors, expand broadband, and enhance utility capabilities — sending a business-friendly message.

Economic development organizations (EDOs) must lead the charge in coordinating comprehensive preparation efforts across their communities. This involves conducting assessments, benchmarking competitiveness, developing strategic growth plans, pursuing funding, and facilitating collaboration between the private sector, government, education, utilities, and residents.

The rural communities truly poised to win in this reshoring economy have EDOs serving as the connective tissue to simultaneously address workforce, infrastructure, and placemaking needs through a holistic team approach.

As the reshoring trend accelerates amid growing federal incentives, rural leaders have a narrow window to get prepared. Those proactive in tackling workforce, livability, and infrastructure will be best positioned to secure transformative investment and job creation.

This reshoring wave could spur a once-in-a-generation economic revitalization if rural America embraces it through timely, comprehensive action. The rural communities that get it right stand to reap immense rewards for decades to come.

Harrington is Principal of Rural Growth Strategies, based in Fort Scott, Kansas.

Click here to read more news about site selection in rural communities. And, look out for Business Facilities’ coverage of rural economic development in the upcoming July/August 2024 issue.

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