Industry Market Trends

Where to Find Manufacturing Jobs in America

Oct 16, 2012

There are a large number of open manufacturing positions in the U.S. today, but the help wanted is not evenly distributed - some regions have much higher concentrations of available jobs than others.

There's been a resurgence in United States manufacturing in the recent years, despite hand-wringing about how the loss of the country's manufacturing base, jobs being shipped to China and criticism that America doesn't make anything anymore.

China's manufacturing growth is slowing down and many production jobs are coming back to the U.S. Chinese manufacturing wages used to be a third of the average U.S. rate, but now they're about half. Coupled with other problems, such as lapses in intellectual property protection, China is not as attractive for many companies to manufacture there anymore.

"About 22 percent of U.S. product manufacturers reported moving some production back to America in the fourth quarter of 2011, and one in three said they were studying the proposition," according to Forbes.

Forbes also found that U.S. factories have been expanding their workforces for close to three years, and April saw the "strongest" manufacturing growth in 10 months: "From 2010 through March, manufacturers added 470,000 jobs and enjoyed a rate of job growth 10 percent faster than the rest of the private economy."

The upswing has reached the so-called "Rust Belt," the swath of states around the Great Lakes that used to host the highest concentration of manufacturing facilities in the U.S. The New York Times recently noted that the rebound in manufacturing is adding jobs in the Midwest faster than in the South. These states have been the location of choice for manufacturers due to right-to-work laws and favorable regulations.

Where the Jobs Are

"A new report from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program shows that since the beginning of 2010, manufacturing employment has increased by 5.2 percent in the Midwest, while it has gone up by only 2.2 percent in the South," the Times reports, adding that "of the 20 metropolitan areas that rank as 'most manufacturing-specialized,' half are in the Midwest."

California still has the most manufacturing jobs in the country, with Forbes declaring Los Angeles as "the nation's largest industrial area." Yet L.A. has also lost about 20 percent of its industrial jobs since 2006. Many blame the state's high taxes and regulatory burdens for the drain.

The more positive signs are for manufacturing located in large urban areas - that's where the jobs are being created. According to data from the Brookings Institution, as of 2010, 79.5 percent of all manufacturing jobs were located in metropolitan areas, only slightly less than the share of all U.S. jobs in these areas (85.2 percent). High-tech manufacturing is "almost exclusively" an urban phenomenon, with 95 percent of high-tech manufacturing located in a major urban area.

Brookings has charted the geographic distribution of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and found that the top three manufacturing clusters are in the metropolitan areas surrounding New York, L.A. and Chicago. Other major centers include the I-95 corridor from Boston to Washington, D.C., Dallas, Seattle, Houston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, St. Louis and the San Francisco/Oakland area.

The Center for Regional Competitiveness recently issued a white paper showing that major metro areas accounting for 24 percent of the country's population held 32 percent of all the open manufacturing jobs in the first six months of 2011.

Why are high-density regions so effective at attracting manufacturing jobs? There are advantages to clustering manufacturing businesses together, especially when the companies fabricate similar types of products. For example, Silicon Valley already has a skilled workforce trained in high-tech production - if you want to go into high-tech manufacturing it makes sense to open a facility there.

Areas that already have a large, experienced workforce in a particular field, as well as a supportive regulatory environment and community support, tend to produce large numbers of new jobs in that industry. For that reason, Seattle is a popular location for aerospace jobs, Austin has numerous positions in semiconductor manufacturing, and Texas and Oklahoma are excellent states to find petrochemical-related work.

When companies want to establish large manufacturing plants, they don't want to have to create an entire infrastructure around it, including a transportation network, power supply, housing, educated workforce, etc. It's much cheaper and easier to go where those things already exist -- i.e. large urban areas, which can offer the key elements needed.