More than 11 million Americans worked in the manufacturing sector in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. These are good jobs, too: The average payroll by employee in manufacturing is $57,266. But while manufacturing was the heart of the American economy a century ago, today it’s far more select. Here’s a look at the top 20 cities in the U.S. for advanced manufacturing.
Columbus is one of the nation’s true powerhouses, with 38 percent of employment dedicated to advanced manufacturing and industry. (That’s compared to 9 percent nationwide). According to the Greater Columbus Indiana Economic Development Corp., Columbus manufacturing is specialized in six industries: machinery and engines, transportation, paper products, fabricated metals, plastics, and pharmaceuticals. It’s no wonder the city is home to the North American R&D centers for Cummins, Faurecia, Toyota Material Handling, Dorel, Enkai, and PMG Indiana. The city is currently working to expand that manufacturing base to include aerospace, cybersecurity, defense, and engineering/R&D services.
Bowling Green, Kentucky
That every Chevrolet Corvette made since 1981 came from Bowling Green ought to tell you something about the city’s manufacturing base. In 2017, about 17 percent of the city’s workforce was in manufacturing (up from 14.4 percent just five years previously), according to USA Today, and they’re responsible for $1.1 billion in exports. The manufacturing base in the city is incredibly diverse, with firms located there making automotive airbag inflators (ARC Automotive), new and used pallets (B&D Pallet), laser marking machines (Beamer Laser Marketing Systems), faucets (Delta Faucets) and paint (Sherwin-Williams).
Lake Charles, Louisiana
There are currently $57 billion worth of manufacturing and petro-chemical projects planned for the Lake Charles metro area, according to a September 2019 Nola.com article. This translates into 3,000 new jobs for 2020, and another 3,800 new jobs in 2021. Considered an economic power for some time now, the region boasts that about 9 percent of its workforce is in manufacturing, and they produced a little more than $7 billion worth of exports in 2018, according to AdvisorSmith. In per capita terms, that pencils out to more than $33,000, which AdvisorSmith ranked seventh highest in the nation.
San Jose, California
San Jose supports more than 65,000 manufacturing jobs—more than twice the number found in the rest of the Bay Area combined, according to a 2016 report from SFMade. It’s home to one of the nation’s Manufacturing Innovation Institutes, which specializes in Flexible Hybrid Electronics, and is part of a network of manufacturing innovation centers set up by the Obama Administration in 2013. The manufacturing output of San Jose was a remarkable $76 billion in 2018, ranking it sixth on AdvisorSmith’s Top 50 list of cities with strong manufacturing economies.
Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Once known predominantly for agriculture and textiles, this North Carolina city (population: 54,000) is known as a regional manufacturing center that produced more than $6 billion worth of exports in 2018. The engine manufacturer Cummins has a plant there, as does Corning, which makes glass. The city is also home to metal fabricators, industrial packaging makers, and hardware producers. Manufacturing has grown by nearly 12 percent in recent years, according to AdvisorSmith, which also reported that Rocky Mount’s manufacturing totaled more than $42,000 on a per capita basis, making it one of the most dynamic industrial cities in the nation.
Vestas Blades makes wind turbines. Burris Co. manufactures rifle scopes. Norfolk Iron & Metal produces carbon steel. IES Combustors makes waste gas combustion equipment. Worthington Industries manufactures a wide range of products, including cab enclosures for tractors, industrial components, propane cylinders, and water systems. What all these companies have in common is their location in Greeley, where nearly 13 percent of the labor force is in manufacturing. In 2017, they were responsible for nearly $800 million in exports. To keep the growth steady, Greeley firms are focusing on finding new talent through better apprenticeship programs, benefits packages, and workforce culture, according to a recent article in the Greeley Tribune.
It shouldn’t be surprising that 60 percent of the manufacturing sector in Jackson supplies products and services to the automotive market, according to the Jackson Chamber of Commerce. Companies such as Michigan Automotive Compressor, Lomar Machine & Tool Co. and Tenneco form the heart of Jackson industry. But medical device manufacturing is a growing part of the local economy. A big part of why Jackson is able to sustain such industries is the Academy for Manufacturing Careers (AMC), a Department of Labor-certified training program and trade school established in 2005 by the Jackson Area Manufacturers Association. The AMC offers full training for CNC machinists, tool and die makers, machine builders, industrial electricians, and a host of other specialties.
Greenville, South Carolina
Greenville has been known as a center for advanced manufacturing since at least 2003 when the Harvard Business Review wrote approvingly of the city’s “visionary leaders,” “hospitable business climate,” “customized training” and “collaboration within the business community.” Those factors are still driving economic development there today, with nearly 60,000 workers (14 percent of the labor force) in Greenville producing $5 billion worth of manufacturing exports, according to USA Today. They work for companies such as Michelin North American (radial tires), GE Power (gas turbines), Bosch Rexroth (fluid pumps), and Confluence Outdoor (boats and boating accessories).
This central Indiana city, long a center of automobile manufacturing, is best known today as one of the nation’s top suppliers of automotive transmissions. Not bad for a city that was devastated in the 2008 financial crisis (General Motors, Chrysler, and Delphi all had plants there), but the city has recovered since along with the auto industry itself. Today, nearly 30 percent of the labor market in Kokomo works in manufacturing—up from 25 percent in 2012. According to AdvisorSmith, the city’s manufacturing sector produced $3.7 billion in 2018—which penciled out to nearly $45,000 on a per capita basis.
This little city located on Lake Michigan at the head of the Sheboygan River is now a preeminent industrial center, specializing in car parts, furniture, and metal products. In fact, the metals fabrication company Kohler is the area’s largest employer, with more than 5,000 workers, according to the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation. That industry is so big there that the county has six times the national average worth of metal manufacturing and makes 11 times the national average of fabricated metal products. Sheboygan workers produced $3.1 billion worth of manufacturing exports in 2018, according to AdvisorSmith.
Bellingham’s manufacturing output grew more than 10 percent between 2014 and 2018, according to AdvisorSmith. And it’s still growing—a Bellingham Herald article reported in January that Tidal Vision, an established Bellingham operation that converts marine byproducts into eco-friendly items like water treatment, would be expanding, and other manufacturers would soon be growing in the greater Whatcom County area. A huge array of manufactured goods comes from the Bellingham area, including saw blades, high-performance brakes, ultrasonic gel, anchor chain, remanufactured engines, precast concrete, natural pet foods, construction-grade lumber and fiberglass boats, according to the Port of Bellingham.
The manufacturing sector in Lima employs nearly 46,000 people and pays an average salary of more than $67,000 a year, according to TownSquare Publications. Though hurt badly in the 2007 recession, Lima recovered, and today is home to Proctor & Gamble, Ford, and General Dynamics. Lima also hosts the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, the nation’s only factory that still produces tanks for the U.S. military. If anything, the city’s main challenge for the future is attracting a steady stream of new workers. Lima’s manufacturing output per capita was just under $40,000 in 2018, according to AdvisorSmith.
A century ago, Beaumont translated the riches of the Spindletop oil deposits to become the second-largest refinery in the nation. Today, Beaumont is quickly growing again, but in manufacturing. Employment in machinery manufacturing and electrical equipment manufacturing grew 53 and 45 percent, respectively, between 2010 and 2017, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas special report. The city’s largest employers include ENGlobal Corp., ExxonMobil, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, Motiva Enterprises and Valero Refining Group. Beaumont’s manufacturing output per capita in 2018 was $36,000, according to AdvisorSmith.
Manufacturing comprised nearly a quarter of the Savannah area’s economic output in 2017, according to the Savannah Chamber of Commerce. In real terms, that translates to slightly more than 22,000 people working at 346 plants. Growth in manufacturing employment held steady in 2017, 2018, and into 2019. One major employer, Gulfstream Aerospace, employs 11,000 workers for production, maintenance, engineering, research, and development. Another Savannah firm, JCB, has about 600 workers who build light capability, rough terrain forklifts for the Department of Defense. All told, Savannah is responsible for about $2.3 billion in manufacturing exports.
In 2018, AQST Space Systems Group, which provides strategic planning to space and defense industry in satellites, space systems, artificial intelligence, and robotic, was looking to move its secured manufacturing operation out of Puerto Rico. The company ended up choosing Yuma because of its friendly business environment, infrastructure, turnkey facilities, and support, according to the city of Yuma. This makes sense, given that the city’s manufacturing employment growth rate was second in the nation from 2014 to 2018, according to AdvisorSmith, and 10th in the U.S. in terms of manufacturing output growth.
Palm Bay, Florida
Defense and semiconductors are big business in Palm Bay—so big that the manufacturing industry is growing faster there than in any other Florida city, according to Space Coast Daily. The 2018 AdvisorSmith study reported that manufacturing output per capita in Palm Bay was $7,494, which was about $450 higher than the national average. The Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce says more than 500 manufacturers call Palm Bay and surrounding Brevard County home, including Patriot Fire Defense, Technolink, Inmarsat, and Advanced Magnet Lab. The chamber also boasts that its Made in Brevard program, which highlights the work of local manufacturers, helps encourage further investment.
Bremerton has been a manufacturing center for more than a century. The workshops, plants, and yards in the city and surrounding Kitsap County build an astonishing variety of products, including office furniture, prosthetic devices, fly fishing rods, LED lighting, unmanned underwater vehicles, patrol boats, schooners, and aircraft carriers, according to the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance. The compound growth rate of manufacturing employment at Bremerton was nearly five percent, according to AdvisorSmith. The Puget Sound Regional Council has also designated Bremerton to be one of eight Manufacturing/Industrial Centers in the region.
Manufacturing labor grew in Clarksville by an incredible 10 percent during 2018, according to a recent study by Kempler Industries. This shouldn’t be surprising, given that in the five years prior to the study, manufacturing employment grew 17 percent, according to USA Today. Data from the Clarksville/Montgomery County Economic Data Center shows the manufacture of automotive parts and industrial machinery have seen especially high rates of growth in recent years—58 percent and 34 percent, respectively. Major employers include Akebono (hubs and rotors), Bridgestone (steel cord), Hendrickson (tractor-trailer air-ride) and Trane (heating and air-conditioning equipment).
The Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada says manufacturing is the fastest growing industry in the greater Reno area. In fact, AdvisorSmith recently ranked Reno seventh on its list of America’s 50 strongest manufacturing economies. Reno offers business-friendly regulations, 80 million square feet of affordable industrial space, some of the lowest electricity costs in the Western U.S., and a hard-working, educated labor force. Some of Reno’s biggest manufacturers are Trex (wood-alternative decking), Tyco (security systems), IGT (slot machines), and James Hardie (building materials).
Manufacturing employment grew in Ogden nearly 18 percent between 2012 and 2017, according to USA Today. That means these days the city’s labor force produces $3.2 billion worth of manufacturing exports. Aerospace is a key part of the industry there, especially since the city is just two miles from Hill Air Force Base. ATK, which builds weapons systems for the U.S. military, has an operation in Ogden, as does Parker Hannifin, which makes aircraft hydraulic and control systems. Other manufacturers include Chromalox (heating elements), JBT Aerotech (commercial aircraft boarding bridges), Levelor (window blinds), and Kimberly-Clark (diapers).
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