Study links manufacturing growth to regions, skilled labor

U.S. manufacturing has become more diversified and advanced, a new Brookings Institution report says, but more needs to be done to build on differing regions’ strengths and to support development of highly skilled manufacturing and its high-paying jobs.

Brookings looked at data for 2000 through 2010 from all 366 U.S. metropolitan areas and broke out details for the 100 largest metro areas.

The report noted that Kansas City had a diverse manufacturing base rather than being focused on one sector. Brookings regularly studies economic trends in urban areas, but it said this was its first analysis of manufacturing.

In the study’s several categories, Kansas City did best in its change in manufacturing jobs from 2000 to 2010. Though the area’s manufacturing jobs dropped by 22 percent, that was good for a No. 18 ranking among the 100 biggest metro areas and compared favorably to the 33 percent decline for all cities.

The study said the area had 72,880 manufacturing jobs, ranking No. 25. However, manufacturing jobs as a percentage of all area jobs was 7.3 percent, below the national average of 8.5 percent.

The study was released last week at a forum in Columbus, Ohio, on globalization. Among the study’s national findings:

• Manufacturing wages vary greatly across metro areas. The average in San Jose, Calif., for example, was $145,000, but in McAllen, Texas, was $35,000.

• The shift of manufacturing to the South ended in the decade studied, and the Midwest had the fastest manufacturing job growth in the past two years.

• Most metro areas fall into one of six broad categories: computers and electronics; transportation equipment; chemicals; machinery; food production; and low-wage manufacturing industries.

• Rather than striving to diversify their manufacturing, regions would do better to build on their strengths, the study said.

• Investments in research and development, high-tech infrastructure, and education and training are needed to encourage what the study calls “high-road” manufacturing, which has good-paying jobs that require high-level skills and can lead to innovative products and processes.