The Metro Economies Most Dependent on Manufacturing Jobs

Manufacturing jobs account for a sizable portion of the employment base in many regions. Read our analysis of the top 10 areas, along with data for more than 300 metro areas.
by | April 5, 2013 AT 12:15 PM

The economies of many smaller and mid-sized metro areas rely heavily on manufacturing jobs to sustain their labor markets.

Many of these regions are home to one or two large manufacturers that prop up other smaller employers, as discussed in an article in the April issue of Governing. Local officials and economic development groups often go to great lengths to support these companies while simultaneously attempting to diversify their economies.

Some regional economies are supported by industries that fared well during the recession, while others saw their unemployment rates skyrocket.

To determine regions most dependent on manufacturing jobs, Governing compiled Labor Department data for 338 metro areas, shown in the table below. Manufacturing job estimates for February were compared with total nonfarm employment to compute the manufacturing share of each area’s workforce.

Many of the top manufacturing hubs are concentrated across the Upper Midwest. The following ten metro areas were shown to have manufacturing accounting for the highest percentages of total employment, according to Labor Department estimates:

10) Pascagoula, Miss.

Total nonfarm employment: 55,500

Manufacturing employment: 13,200

Manufacturing share of workforce: 23.8 percent

Pascagoula benefits greatly from the presence of Ingalls Shipbuilding, employing more workers than any other manufacturer in Mississippi. Chevron also operates an oil refinery in the metro area, which encompasses two counties in the southeast corner of of the state.

9) Kokomo, Ind.

Total nonfarm employment: 41,700

Manufacturing employment: 10,100

Manufacturing share of workforce: 24.2 percent

Much of Kokomo’s manufacturing base is tied to the automotive and agricultural industries.

Chrysler is the region’s largest employer, with about 5,500 employees in four plants, according to the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance. Auto parts maker Delphi lists another 1,400 local workers on its payrolls.

Like most other auto towns, the area suffered significant job losses during the recession. The metro area’s unemployment rate peaked at 20 percent in the summer of 2009, but has since steadily declined.

8) Racine, Wis.

Total nonfarm employment: 72,600

Manufacturing employment: 18,500

Manufacturing share of workforce: 25.5

Racine County’s largest employer isn’t a manufacturer – it’s the local hospital system.

S.C. Johnson & Son was its largest manufacturing employer as of 2011, with 2,600 workers. CNH America, which builds construction and agricultural equipment, employs another approximately 2,500 workers.

The metro area’s unemployment situation has mostly mirrored the national unemployment rate.

7) Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, N.C.

Total nonfarm employment: 142,500

Manufacturing employment: 36,800

Manufacturing share of workforce: 25.8 percent

The four-county region in western North Carolina is different from most others on the list in that it isn’t supported by just one or two large manufacturers with several thousand jobs.

Grocery store distributor Merchant Distributors, Inc., headquartered in Hickory, employs about 1,700. CommScope and Corning Cable Systems, both of which make telecommunications products, are other top employers. Furniture manufacturing also has a long history in the area.

6) Oshkosh-Neenah, Wis.

Total nonfarm employment: 92,000

Manufacturing employment: 24,700

Manufacturing share of workforce: 26.8 percent

Compared to some other places on this list, the Oshkosh metro area’s labor market has remained relatively strong. Its jobless rate fell below 6 percent last year before rising in January.

One of the area’s largest employers is the Oshkosh Corp., which builds trucks and military vehicles.

5) Holland-Grand Haven, Mich.   

Total nonfarm employment: 112,300

Manufacturing employment: 33,000

Manufacturing share of workforce: 29.4 percent

The region along Lake Michigan is home to multiple major manufacturers. Johnson Controls specializes in the automotive and building industries. Gentex, Corp., headquartered in Zeeland, Mich., makes high-tech electronics products. Both companies employ about 3,500 workers each, according to Lakeshore Advantage, a local nonprofit group.

Outside of manufacturing, Grand Valley State University and a large hospital with about 2,000 employees help drive the region's economy.

4) Sheboygan, Wis.

Total nonfarm employment: 56,200

Manufacturing employment: 18,200

Manufacturing share of workforce: 32.4 percent

The Sheboygan metro area is the corporate headquarters of two major manufacturers: Kohler, which produces various plumbing products, and global plastics maker Bemis Manufacturing Company. An aluminum die-casting company, cheese maker Sargento Foods and several smaller manufacturers also boost the region’s economy.

Sheboygan’s unemployment rate has remained below national levels, mostly hovering around 6 and 7 percent last year.

3) Dalton, Ga.

Total nonfarm employment: 62,900

Manufacturing employment: 20,700

Manufacturing share of workforce: 32.9 percent

If your home has carpeting, there’s a good chance it came from Dalton, Ga. -- often referred to as the carpet capital of the world. The area’s top manufacturers include Shaw Industries (the world’s largest carpet manufacturer), Mohawk Industries and Aladdin Mills.

The recession hit the area hard as the housing market – and the demand for carpeting – plummeted. The Dalton metro area's unemployment rate stood at 11.9 percent in January.

2) Columbus, Ind.

Total nonfarm employment: 46,100

Manufacturing employment: 18,600

Manufacturing share of workforce: 37.9 percent

Columbus, Ind., is home to engine manufacturing giant Cummins, Inc. The company employs 5,549 workers locally and is easily the area’s largest employer, according to the Columbus Economic Development Board. The region also supports numerous auto parts makers and a Toyota plant.

But you'll have to drive further north to find the area with the highest share of manufacturing jobs.

1) Elkhart-Goshen, Ind.   

Total nonfarm employment: 112,600

Manufacturing employment: 50,900

Manufacturing share of workforce: 45.2 percent

The manufacturing sector accounts for a staggering 45 percent of the Elkhart-Goshen area’s total jobs – by far the most of any region in the country.

In 2009, the area’s unemployment rate soared to more than 20 percent, prompting multiple visits from president Obama. Elkhart later appeared in the 2010 State of the Union address as Obama laid out his plans for job creation.

RV makers and related companies supply most of the region's manufacturing jobs. In all, Elkhart County employs more than 20,000 transportation equipment workers.

Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County, said the region benefits from its central location, near both an interstate and railroad lines.

While employment remains below pre-recession levels, the region’s economy is on its way to recovering. Existing companies invested $137 million locally last year, creating thousands of new jobs. The metro area’s jobless rate fell sharply, accordingly.

“We were hit hard, but those companies that were nimble and flexible have grown at a significant rate,” Heiden-Guss said.

Metro Area Employment Data

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, February employment estimates.

Please note that data was not included for metro areas without estimates for manufacturing employment.