"Made in the USA." Those are four words that are rarely found on electronics, but following Google's surprising move to build the unsuccessful Nexus Q in the United States, Lenovo is opening up a plant in North Carolina to manufacture a portion of its ThinkPad and ThinkCentre laptops, desktops, and tablets. According to the North Carolina-based News & Observer, the new manufacturing facility will cost around $2 million and will employ 115 workers once it opens next year in Whitsett, NC — not far from Lenovo's US headquarters in Raleigh.
Largely a symbolic gesture, for now
Considering the Chinese company had $29.6 billion in revenue during its last fiscal year, the decision appears to be primarily symbolic. The Wall Street Journal reports that the limited-capacity US plant will allow the company more flexibility when catering to its corporate clients, so don't expect your next ThinkPad Edge to be made locally — the vast majority of machines will likely continue to be built in China and Mexico. Despite its size, the new plant is certainly a change of pace for computer manufacturers. American companies like Apple, HP, and Dell no longer produce any machines in the United States.
It's not yet clear how this will affect prices of Lenovo's computers, but the company's North America President David Schmoock likened US-manufacture to environmentally-friendly standards, telling the Journal that "you do it because your customers and partners value you being green." The new plant follows news earlier this year that the company was returning to Japan to build computers destined for that market, and signals a broader initiative to locally produce machines in its largest markets, where possible. It remains to be seen if such a move is viable in the United States at scale; it's not clear what part of the manufacturing process will occur in North Carolina, and it appears that very few machines will pass through the facility.
Update: Lenovo has revealed that engineering workstations and servers — as well as Think-branded laptops, desktops, and tablets — will be made at the facility, and that they'll be bound for education, business, and government customers, as well as consumers in the US. That mysteriously low $2 million cost for the facility has also been explained: the production line is going to be built into the existing distribution center Lenovo has in North Carolina, not a separate building.