Should a company be called a manufacturer if it doesn’t make what it sells? The answer isn’t as obvious as it seems. Just ask Rich Cameron.
“If someone asks me at a party, I say we make binoculars,” said the president of Carson Optical Inc., a small company tucked in an industrial park in this New York City suburb, adding, “It’s a little bit more vague than saying we manufacture them.”
Some refer to companies like these as “factoryless goods producers”—firms that handle every part of making their products except the actual fabrication. As industries have gone global, this model has proliferated from furniture making to electronics: Think of Apple Inc. and its iPhones. Now, there is a move afoot among U.S. government agencies to count these companies as manufacturers, which is a surprisingly fraught issue.
The upshot would be an overnight increase in the apparent size of the U.S. industrial sector without adding a single assembly line. It would also change its geography, as places like Silicon Valley would suddenly look much more like a manufacturing hot spot. Backers of the change say this would give a truer picture of the nation’s productive capability, because these firms still do most other functions of manufacturing, from designing goods to overseeing their production and distribution.