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America Making Toilets Again!

September 26, 2013


This must be the final piece of the economic puzzle that allows us to know the bottom is over, and flush days are again ahead for the United States.

The toilet turnaround is a microcosm of U.S. manufacturing trends.

“The days of chasing cheap labor around the world are coming to an end,” said William Strang, who heads the operations division for Toto in the Americas. Toto is reducing trans-Pacific shipments and relying more on U.S. and Mexican plants for its sales in North America.

Making toilets requires lots of manual labor—”very much like making pottery,” as one industry executive puts it. That is why most production moved over the past two decades to lower-cost countries, mostly China and Mexico.

The work is demanding, requiring muscles to lift bowls and tanks, as well as a delicate touch to smooth surfaces.

“You need the strength of a football player and the hands of a sculptor,” Mansfield’s Mr. Morando said as workers in muscle shirts hoisted newly baked porcelain on a recent afternoon.

Three-quarters of the 10.6 million residential and commercial toilets sold in the U.S. last year were imports, estimates Victor Post, vice president of GMP Research Inc., a research firm based in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

There are just seven toilet plants in the U.S. today, down from 48 in the late 1970s, Mr. Morando said.

Much of that capacity may never return, but industry executives now see U.S. production as a viable alternative. Even if they don’t build new plants in the U.S., they are more inclined to add capacity in nearby Mexico rather than in China so they can reduce shipping times. In addition, ocean-shipping costs and Chinese wages have risen, making production there less attractive.

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