President Trump says he’s finally gotten somewhere in his years-long crusade to get Apple to build more products in the US. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal today, Trump said that Apple CEO Tim Cook called him and committed to build “three big plants, beautiful plants” in the United States.
For now, there’s no detail beyond that. Apple declined to comment to the Journal and hasn’t responded to our own request for comment.
If Trump’s statement is correct, that’d be a big investment on Apple’s behalf and a significant change of pace. Right now, Apple only has Mac Pros manufactured in the US, and it hasn’t even committed to continuing that. Apple also generally prefers to work with outside suppliers, so it can source parts from multiple companies and shield itself from risk — such as when it turns out that an entire factory is worthless because its manufacturing method didn’t pan out.
That’s why it seems quite possible that Trump has some of the details wrong here. For instance, Cook may have said that Apple’s suppliers are building new factories in the US, rather than Apple itself. Apple recently invested $200 million in Corning, which supplies cover glass for iPhones, with the intention of supporting the company’s manufacturing efforts, already located in Kentucky. Foxconn, a major Apple supplier, is also said to be planning its first US factory. That factory may well produce products for Apple, though it wouldn’t be an Apple-owned factory.
If so, it doesn’t seem like Trump cares about the distinction, as long as he can say Apple is becoming more involved in US manufacturing. “I said you know, Tim, unless you start building your plants in this country, I won’t consider my administration an economic success,” Trump told the Journal. “He called me, and he said they are going forward.”
This has been a sticking point for Trump for a long time. On the campaign trail, he repeatedly called out Apple for its reliance on foreign manufacturing. “I'm going to get Apple to start making their computers and their iPhones on our land, not in China,” he said during a speech last March. “How does it help us when they make it in China?”
And since the election, Trump has spoken in increasingly optimistic terms about the potential for Apple to build in the US. Trump said he spoke with Cook about it shortly after the election, and then just before being sworn in, said that Cook had his “eyes open to it.”
Apple, on the other hand, has seemed less interested. It announced plans to invest $1 billion in US manufacturing, but that seems to be in other companies’ efforts. Aside from that, Apple has largely declined to comment on its manufacturing plans. And when the company’s CFO did touch on the subject this year, he said that Apple is trying to paint itself as a creator of different types of jobs, like app development positions.
Still, there are plenty of good reasons why Apple would want to move manufacturing Stateside, even if only to please Trump. Apple strongly wants to see changes to how overseas profits are taxed, so that it can bring in an enormous pile of money — over $230 billion — that’s been sitting abroad. Seen from that angle, Apple may be spending $1 billion now in hopes of saving billions more later on, thanks to Republicans picking up its cause.