I think there are some high-skilled, well-paying jobs associated with robotic high-tech manufacturing/assembly/testing/packaging -- but not as many low-paying assembly-line jobs,
My late father-in-law operated a punch-press for 40 years in a US Steel factory outside of Pittsburgh. Those jobs are gone! I read recently that much of the assembly lines for Apple products are manned by people -- not because they are needed, but because the Chinese Government requires it... kinda' a national union.
IMO, the keys to bringing manufacturing back to the US include:
- automated high-volume manufacturing
- high-skilled jobs setting up and monitoring the automated manufacturing
- making the automated manufacturing machines/lines, themselves
- ability to reset manufacturing machines/lines in days or weeks rather than months
- rigorously managed and controlled supply chain
There will be a lot fewer, but higher-paying, higher-skilled jobs directly involved in the manufacturing.
But, the fanout of the "support community" needed by automated manufacturing will replace the lost assembly-line jobs...
I mean, the restaurants, dry cleaners, real estate agents, plumbers, school teachers, super market clerks, gardeners, UPS delivery men, road construction workers, salesmen, web article writers...
I'll give you an example how high-tech fanout can affect a community;
IBM transferred me to a Job in Palo Alto in 1973. We looked at houses in the area, including the sleepy little town of Cupertino. We bought a little South of there in the Village of Saratoga. I could drive the 15 miles to my job in Palo Alto in 25 minutes during rush hour;
In 1978 we opened a Computer store in Sunnyvale. I could drive the 7 miles to/from the store in 12-15 minutes during rush hour.
Right in the middle, about 4 miles from home is Cupertino (and this little company called Apple).
Skip ahead to 1989 when we sold the stores.
Apple and Cupertino had grown exponentially... thousands of people and jobs fanned out in the communities surrounding Apple. Several freeways had been built or extended. Rush hour had also been extended to any time between 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM...
It took 45 minutes to drive the 7 miles from our home in Saratoga to our Sunnyvale store.
Apple didn't do any manufacturing in Cupertino but a massive fanout of non-Apple jobs grew to support the growing Apple business...
I would SWAG estimate that for every [relatively] high-paying Apple Job -- that were 10-20 lower-paying non-Apple jobs.
And, here's the real benefit... the opportunities provided (both within and without Apple) are essentially unlimited -- to those who can focus and apply themselves.
It was a matter of pride to us that many of our computer store employees went to work at Apple and became successful in their own right!
Seems a lot of people suspected that I did not welcome the prospect of large scale highly automated manufacturing growing by leaps and bounds in the U.S. I am excited by the possibility, I only mentioned the jobs angle because there are folks who will expect hundreds of thousands of assembly line jobs will be created. No they won't, but it's still a huge net plus for the U.S. because of reasons like you laid out.
Here's the thing though. If robotic manufacturing explodes as we hope in this country, there won't be enough locally trained engineers and skilled technicians to oversee those factories. We will need to make sure the educational system and skilled immigration programs are up to the job.
Second, this will contribute to the further bifurcation of the economy into a higher income sector of capital owners and highly skilled, knowledge-based workers and a vast lower income sector that will make up the rest of society who sell man-hours not knowledge to make a living. In other words there will be people whose job involve pushing the buttons that make machines run, there will be people whose job is to make sure the machines run when the button is pushed, and there will be people who own the button (and the machines that they run). Your prospects in life depend on who you are and what you do relative to the button.