For a few years, steady growth in auto manufacturing helped prop up regional economies recovering from the recession. But new data indicate that the industry’s momentum has stalled.

Vehicle sales declined for the sixth consecutive month in June, and automakers are responding. Ford announced plans in May to trim 10 percent of its salaried workforce in North America and Asia. Similarly, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler have eliminated shifts at some facilities.

Automakers have played a critical role in the larger manufacturing sector’s recovery since it bottomed out in early 2010. In fact, a Brookings Institution analysis finds that the auto industry was responsible for 60 to 80 percent of total manufacturing growth over the 15-month period ending in March.

Given that auto manufacturing has served as one of the few bright spots across the manufacturing sector, new indications of accelerating job losses could spell trouble for regional economies where automakers and parts suppliers are major employers.

We’ve compiled U.S. Department of Labor data highlighting such regions. The federal Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages reports data for three industries closely associated with auto manufacturing, and the following 25 metro areas reported the highest tallies in those industries as of December:

 

Metro Area Total Vehicle parts manufacturing Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing Vehicle manufacturing
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 102,131.0 71,440 2,955 27,736
Elkhart-Goshen, IN 31,633.0 3,623 28,010  
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 12,186.0 11,686 500  
Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 10,966.0 10,519 447  
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 10,533.0 9,518 1,015  
Kokomo, IN 10,343.0 10,343    
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 9,793.0 6,900 2,244 649
Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN 9,599.0 9,276 323  
Columbus, OH 9,201.0 8,341 860  
Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN 9,144.0 9,144    
San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 8,753.0 4,763 320 3,670
Knoxville, TN 8,133.0 7,646 487  
Louisville-Jefferson County, KY-IN 7,553.0 7,553    
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 6,959.0 6,230 729 0
Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC 6,439.0 5,811 628  
Battle Creek, MI 6,067.0 6,067    
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 4,875.0 2,565 1,852 458
Dayton, OH 4,864.0 4,864    
Columbus, IN 4,676.0 4,676    
Birmingham-Hoover, AL 4,133.0 3,650 483  
Ann Arbor, MI 4,100.0 4,100    
Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY 4,021.0 4,021    
Kansas City, MO-KS 3,942.0 3,797 145  
Bowling Green, KY 3,854.0 3,854    
Jackson, MI 2,883.0 2,883    

SOURCE: Governing calculations of BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, December 2016 estimates (Data was not reported for some metro areas. These numbers also don’t include all related employers that do business with auto manufacturers.) 

Nationally, auto manufacturing employment grew last year by just over 2 percent. The Detroit region, which employs by far the most workers in the auto industry, experienced a slight increase of about 3,000 employees over the 12-month period ending in December. Atlanta and Knoxville, Tenn., are among other regions with notable upticks in hiring.

The Charlotte, N.C., area, meanwhile, shed nearly 12 percent of its workforce.

Here’s how auto manufacturing employment fluctuated over the 12 months ending in December across select metro areas with significant employment in the industry:

 

Metro Area Change December 2016 Jobs December 2015 Jobs BLS Industries Included
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 3.0% 102,131 99,114 Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing, Vehicle manufacturing
Elkhart-Goshen, IN 7.6% 31,633 29,404 Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing
Knoxville, TN 17.5% 8,133 6,921 Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 15.1% 6,959 6,048 Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing
Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 7.5% 10,966 10,204 Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing
Kansas City, MO-KS 16.0% 3,942 3,397 Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 4.7% 10,533 10,064 Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing
Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN 4.6% 9,599 9,180 Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 3.0% 9,793 9,512 Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing, Vehicle manufacturing
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 2.1% 12,186 11,939 Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing
Louisville-Jefferson County, KY-IN 3.1% 7,553 7,323 Vehicle parts manufacturing
Jackson, MI 1.7% 2,883 2,836 Vehicle parts manufacturing
Kokomo, IN 0.3% 10,343 10,311 Vehicle parts manufacturing
Nashville-Davidson, TN 0.3% 9,144 9,118 Vehicle parts manufacturing
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA -0.3% 4,875 4,888 Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing, Vehicle manufacturing
Ann Arbor, MI -1.6% 4,100 4,167 Vehicle parts manufacturing
Columbus, OH -0.9% 9,201 9,287 Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing
Columbus, IN -2.9% 4,676 4,816 Vehicle parts manufacturing
Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY -4.3% 4,021 4,200 Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing
Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC -11.5% 6,439 7,273 Vehicle parts manufacturing, Vehicle body/trailer manufacturing

Figures compare December 2015 and December 2016 total employment for all three industry classifications with available data. Areas without comparable data for both months were excluded. SOURCE: Governing calculations of BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data Recent indicators for 2017, particularly declining auto sales, suggest more regions will experience losses this year. Brookings’ Mark Muro views the job declines as a normal slowing after an extended period of growth. “For the next year or two," he says, "it might be a less reliable source of manufacturing jobs.”

 

 

A few segments of the industry are faring better. Sales of trucks and SUVs are up from last year, and Tesla just announced the hiring of more than 1,000 technicians as it rolls out its highly anticipated Model 3 electric vehicle.

Still, few other areas of manufacturing have shown signs of life. The latest federal estimates for June indicate there were 12.4 million total manufacturing workers nationwide, about the same as two years ago. Unless other large segments of manufacturing begin hiring, such as chemical, electronics or plastics manufacturing, the auto industry's slowdown is likely to act as a major drag on the sector's overall growth.

About the Data

 

The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages does not report total auto manufacturing jobs, but rather estimates for narrower related industries. The three industries referenced in this report include motor vehicle parts manufacturing (NAICS 3363), motor vehicle body and trailer manufacturing (NAICS 3362), and motor vehicle manufacturing (NAICS 3361). Many regions not listed also support significant auto manufacturing employment. Job estimates were unavailable for these areas, either because the Labor Department suppresses the totals or there were no workers. Figures refer only to private-sector employment.