Special Report

Cities Where Manufacturing Is Making a Comeback

Detailed Findings

Among metro areas on this list, five-year surges in manufacturing employment levels range from 14.8% in Greenville, South Carolina, to 40.6% in Lewiston, Idaho. For reference, employment in manufacturing grew by 4.3% nationwide over the same time.

In almost every metro area on this list, manufacturing growth is outpacing overall job growth. In 24 of the 28 cities on this list, manufacturing now accounts for a larger share of total employment than it did five years ago. Nationwide, manufacturing accounts for 8.5% of total employment, down from 8.9% in 2012.

Manufacturing’s resurgence in parts of the United States is due largely to a reversal of the offshoring production trend that initially contributed to the sector’s decline. More and more, companies are choosing to open production plants in the United States as rising labor costs abroad, high transportation costs, and longer order cycles are reducing the financial benefit of outsourcing production.

Companies can also reduce exposure to risk by concentrating production domestically. Risks associated with foreign manufacturing include potentially inadequate quality control, cultural and language barriers, and reputation damage.

One company bringing manufacturing jobs back is automobile parts maker Gentex. The company shut down its plants in China and Mexico in recent years to consolidate production in Zeeland, Michigan. Zeeland lies within the Grand Rapids metro area, which has reported a 21.8% increase in manufacturing employment in the last half decade, five times the comparable national growth.

Similarly, multinational conglomerate General Electric recently shifted production of high-end refrigerators from Mexico to its Appliance Park facility in Louisville, Kentucky. Even more recently, the same plant expanded its dishwasher and laundry appliance production capacity, adding yet another 400 jobs. Due in part to GE’s Appliance Park facility, the Louisville metro area netted a manufacturing employment increase of 13,200 in the last five years, a 19.2% increase.

Other examples of major corporate expansions and relocations in progress in the cities on this list include a $1 billion investment in a new battery plant at the Mercedes Benz production facility in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a new Briggs & Stratton engine production facility in Auburn, Alabama, and a $1 billion Fiat Chrysler factory in Warren, Michigan.

While jobs in manufacturing are coming back in these cities, they have changed considerably from the stereotypical assembly line factory job of the 20th century. Technological advancements in recent decades have impacted the production process in countless manufacturing jobs, and unskilled manufacturing jobs have largely been replaced by machines.

Maintaining and repairing those machines and overseeing production requires certain skill sets. While requirements vary depending on the job, it is not uncommon for manufacturing jobs to require licenses, certificates, or some level of college or technical school.

Methodology

To identify the cities where manufacturing is making a comeback, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the percent increase in manufacturing employment from 2012 through 2017. To limit our list to manufacturing hubs, only metro areas where manufacturing accounted for a larger share of total employment in 2012 than the comparable 8.9% national concentration were considered. Sector level employment data and August unemployment data came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Total value of manufacturing exports came from the Brookings Institute’s “Export Monitor: 2018” report, which is based on 2017 data.