America’s New Manufacturing Boomtowns
Conventional wisdom for a generation has been that manufacturing in America is dying. Yet over the past five years, the country has experienced something of an industrial renaissance. We may be far from replacing the 3 million industrial jobs lost in the recession, but the economy has added over 330,000 industrial jobs since 2010, with output growing at the fastest pace since the 1990s.
Looking across the country, it is clear that industrial expansion has been a key element in boosting some of our most successful local economies. The large metro areas with the most momentum in expanding their manufacturing sectors also rank highly on our list of the cities that are generating the most jobs overall, including Houston-Sugarland-Baytown, Texas, which places first on our list of the big metro areas that are creating the most manufacturing jobs; Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash. (third); Oklahoma City, Okla. (fourth), Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tenn. (No. 6); Ft. Worth, Texas (No. 9); and Salt Lake City, Utah (No. 10).
Our rankings factor in manufacturing employment growth over the long-term (2001-12), mid-term (2007-12) and the last two years, as well as momentum. They identify those places where the market tells us the best storylines for manufacturing are being written.
The Energy Boom and Industrial Growth
What is striking about this revival is both its sectoral and geographic diversity. For Houston, the booming energy industry is driving job growth in metal fabrication, machinery and chemicals. Since 2009, Houston industrial employment has grown 15%, almost three times as fast as the overall economy. Of course, industrial growth also tends to create jobs in other sectors, notably construction and professional and business services.
Much the same pattern of energy-driven growth can be seen in Oklahoma City, where the number of industrial jobs is also up 15% since 2009. This dynamic is also occurring in smaller metro areas. Energy cities did particularly well on our ranking of mid-sized metro areas (those with between 150,000 and 450,000 jobs overall), including third-place Lafayette, La.; Tulsa, Okla (fifth); Anchorage (sixth); Baton Rouge, La. (eighth); Bakersfield-Delano, Calif. (No. 13); and Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas (No. 14).
On our small cities list (under 150,000 jobs), two energy cities stand out, No. 4 Odessa and No. 7 Midland.
The Great Lakes Revival
The other big story in manufacturing has been the recovery of the auto industry. Essentially we see two parallel expansions, one based around the revival of U.S. automakers and their suppliers, particularly around the Great Lakes, and another that’s keyed by foreign-based firms, particularly in the Mid-South and Southeast.
Among the larger metro areas, the star of the U.S.-led recovery is No. 5 Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills, Mich., an area that is widely known as “automation alley.” This region epitomizes the transition of manufacturing to more automated, high-tech production methods. After decades of losses, the area’s industrial employment increased 26% from 2009 through 2012.
More hopeful still has been the industrial recovery of the quintessential factory region, Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, No. 8 on our large metro area list. The Detroit resurgence is for real, with manufacturing employment up 18% since 2009. The industrial expansion has also sparked high-tech employment growth across Michigan that in 2010-2011 stood at almost 7% compared to 2.6% nationwide.
Another big winner from the auto rebound has been Louisville-Jefferson County, Ky., No. 2 on our large cities list. Industrial employment in the area has expanded nearly 15% since 2009. Smaller cities in the region have also staged an impressive recovery. Columbus, Ind., No. 1 on our small city list, is benefiting from the growth of auto suppliers such as PMG Group as well as the expansion of a nearby Honda facility.
Full List: The Big Cities Leading The U.S. Manufacturing Revival
The South Rises Again
Many “progressive” intellectuals love to hate the South. The region, industrializing rapidly for decades, took a big hit when the recession devastated the manufacturing sector everywhere.
But more recently many Southern areas have enjoyed considerable growth in a host of industries, from petrochemicals and autos to aerospace. This can be seen in two of the South’s largest metropolitan regions, Nashville, Tenn. (No. 6 on our list), and Virginia Beach, Va. (No. 7 ). In Nashville, much of the manufacturing job growth is auto-related, sparked in large part by the expansion of smaller plants and the nearby Nissan facilities.
In contrast, Virginia Beach’s manufacturing job growth has been very diverse, reaching into fields as broad as fabricated metals and autos. Expanding investment from abroad, notably in aerospace and autos, has paced growth in other southern cities, notably Mobile, Ala., No. 1 in the mid-sized category, which has become a major production hub for Europe-based Airbus. Similarly, in Florence-Muscle Shoals, Ala., No. 3 on our small city list, industrial employment growth has been paced by the expansion of Navistar, as well as a host of smaller specialized manufacturers.
The West is often identified as a key high-tech and lifestyle mecca, but it also includes some of the nation’s top industrial growth centers. At the top of the pile sits No. 3 Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, home to Microsoft MSFT -0.4%, Amazon and Starbucks SBUX -0.82%, but also the birthplace of Boeing BA -0.2% and its primary manufacturing location. Although the aerospace giant has moved some production elsewhere, Seattle has enjoyed nearly 13% growth in manufacturing employment since 2009.
But the Emerald City is not the only western hotspot for manufacturing growth. Aided by low hydro-electric energy prices — as much as a third less than historic rival California –Washington State boasts several thriving industrial areas. Kennewick-Pasco-Richland earned the No. 2 spot in our small city rankings while Wenatchee comes in at No. 11. Low energy prices helps attract firms in diverse industries ranging from metals to food processing.
The other western manufacturing hotspot is Utah, which also has low energy prices and a favorable business climate. Salt Lake City, which is becoming a perennial on many of our lists, has enjoyed a rapid expansion of technology-driven manufacturing, most notably a huge Intel-Micron flash memory plant, aerospace and recreation sports equipment industries. Also in the Beehive State, Ogden-Clearfield ranks No. 8 on our mid-sized list.
Who’s Losing Ground?
The bottom of our list generally divides into two categories: long-declining industrial hubs and places that are starting to de-industrialize rapidly. In many ways California represents the antithesis of the other western manufacturing economies, with its lethal combination of high energy prices and strict regulation. According to the California Manufacturing and Technology Association, the Golden State lost a full third of its industrial base from 2001 to 2010, and has yet to participate in the nation’s industrial recovery. Since 2010, manufacturing employment nationwide has grown more than 4% while in California industrial jobs have barely grown.
With the exception of oil-rich Bakersfield, no California metro area approaches the top rungs of our manufacturing list. Most worrisome is the poor performance of Los Angeles-Long Beach, which ranked 46th out of 66 large metro areas. Still the nation’s largest manufacturing region, L.A. has lost some 4.7% of its industrial jobs since 2010, declining as the nation’s factory economy surged forward. Doing even worse is neighboring San Bernardino-Riverside, traditionally where L.A. firms expand, ranking a dismal 64th.
But not all the bad news is in California. The most poorly performing manufacturing metro areas include such old industrial hubs as Camden-Union, rock bottom at No. 66, which has lost 7% of its manufacturing jobs since 2009 and a remarkable 23% since 2007. Both No. 62 Newark-Union, N.J., and No. 56 Rochester, N.Y., are also rapidly becoming industrial has-beens.
Clearly America’s nascent industrial revival still has not reached many parts of the country. But given the evident relationship between growing economies generally and a vibrant manufacturing sector, perhaps more regions will place greater emphasis on industrial employment as they seek to recover from the Great Recession.
Joel Kotkin, Contributor