Category Archives: Seventh District

What industries are key to Midwest economic performance?

Urban economist Wilbur Thompson once said, “Tell me your industries, and I’ll tell you your future.” A region’s industries do tell us a lot about its economy. In the Midwest, manufacturing industries often drive fluctuations and trends in the region’s overall economic growth because manufacturing is a much larger part of its economy, on average, than the rest of the nation’s. So, too, manufactured goods are traded far and wide—that is, they are exported and imported across national boundaries as well as across regions that make up the U.S. economy. Accordingly, shifts in demand for manufactured goods can have an outsized impact on states and communities in the Midwest. For example, a national shift in buying behavior toward foreign nameplate autos, or toward smaller and more energy efficient autos, may well impact automotive production, investment, and employment in some parts of the Midwest region.

On a short-term basis, fluctuations in aggregate economic activity, such as recessions, diminish demands for durable goods such as capital equipment, thereby making the Midwest economy more sensitive to national “business cycle” fluctuations.

So, too, many Midwest manufacturing industries are impacted by global competitive shifts. Production operations of some home appliance manufacturers have shifted to Mexico, for instance.

But how can we identify which particular industries to observe and follow in the Seventh District? First, we must ascertain how concentrated is an industry in a local economy as compared with the national economy. Analysts often construct a “location quotient” to do so. In one such application, each industry’s employment share of total employment in the region is compared with its national counterpart. The comparison is constructed as a ratio with the local share on top. For example, if a locality’s labor force had 20 percent of its workers in manufacturing as compared with 10 percent nationally, the index (ratio) takes on a value of 2.0, i.e., 20/10. Parity with the nation would take on a value of 1.0.

While such an index is useful by way of comparison, it says little about the actual size of a particular industry in a state or region. For this reason, the chart below identifies manufacturing industries in the Seventh District states by relative concentration and by employment size. The horizontal scale depicts the concentration, and it is centered at the index value of one, or parity with the nation. The vertical scale is centered at the value of the median-sized manufacturing industry in the District (as measured by payroll employment).

By construction then, we may quickly characterize the most prominent industries in the District as they are located in the upper right hand quadrant of the graph. For the District, it is clear that transportation, food processing, and machinery are the most prominent industries, with transportation (representing automotive) winning hands down. The fabricated metal products sector also looms large; however, these industries represent many diverse intermediate products that are eventually used to produce more final goods such as autos or machinery. Primary metals, principally steel foundries as designated by the industry code 331 on the chart, is the most concentrated industry (as measured by employment) in the District. Yet, its employment is relatively small in comparison.

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Charts for each individual state will soon be available on our Midwest Regional Website. Iowa is reproduced below. As the chart suggests, employment in food processing stands out as the largest and the most concentrated in the state. In large part, this activity represents Iowa’s further processing of corn and soybeans into meals and oils, as well as its meat packing industry, chiefly pork. Iowa’s large and highly concentrated machinery industry reflects its focus on its manufacturing of farm machinery and equipment.

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Analysis of the District’s lesser industries can also be informative. In the overall U.S., the computing and electronic products industries have grown rapidly into a large component of overall U.S. manufacturing. In virtually every Seventh District state, for example, employment in this sector exceeds the median manufacturing sector. But at the same time, the states’ concentration of this sector is universally below the national average. In this instance, the sector’s lower concentration and lesser expansion here have contributed to a slower pace of overall economic growth.

Of course, these glimpses are only a superficial beginning to understanding the structure and behavior the region’s economy. For one, individually identified sectors often have important linkages to others that merit further consideration. Such industries as machinery and autos, for example, purchase great volumes of intermediate materials and parts locally, including those found in rubber and plastics, fabricated metals, and machinery (e.g., tool and die and metal cutting machinery). Also, in varying degrees, sectors may purchase local services as diverse as management consulting and transportation. Specific industry linkages can be found in the input–output tables of the U.S., which are produced by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

However, the U.S. input–output tables may often be misleading for regional analysis. That is because specific inter-sector buying and selling relationships will differ greatly and vary widely from region to region. For one, local firms will purchase intermediate goods and services from many possible places. For the most part, we know little about the varying geography of such relationships. In response, the BEA has adapted and estimated the national relationships for individual regions of the U.S. in its RIMS II modeling system. This system and others like it, which are available commercially, are often used to estimate the broader economic impacts of small changes to a community or local industry.

Are U.S. and Seventh District business cycles alike?

This question is posed by Michael Kouparitsas and Daisuke Nakajima (K-N) in a current Economic Perspectives article. The answer, in general, is “yes,” and, in their analysis, many additional insights are gained about the structure and behavior of the Seventh District regional economy and its five component states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin.

The so-called business cycle refers to the way that cyclical fluctuations of aggregate income relate to cyclical fluctuations of individual economic components, such as consumer spending, business investment, and job creation, and the ways that these components relate to each other. In this regard, academic economists have found that national economies around the world behave similarly, and a lesser body of evidence now suggests that sub-national or regional economies do, too.

The K-N article gathers some long time series of data on the overall Seventh District economy along with component parts that are analogs to U.S. economic series. The figure below from K-N juxtaposes the aggregate business cycle of the Seventh District and each state with the overall U.S. economic cycle.

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In their analyses, K-N show that the timing of swings in Seventh District state economies is very similar to the nation. Most likely, this is explained by the fact that the economies of the U.S. and the District are affected by common “shocks” such as energy price surges. One exception is a weak tendency for Michigan and Indiana economies to lead the direction of the overall Seventh District by one quarter of a year, perhaps because of those states’ sharp concentrations in durable goods production.

Behaviors of various components of the District economy also mimic their counterparts in the U.S. and world economies. Residential investment and consumption in general tend to lead business cycles. As a leading indicator, average weekly hours of workers in the manufacturing sector also tend to precede swings in aggregate income, as does initial claims for unemployment insurance. Total employment often is a coincident or lagging indicator.

Such information can be further used to construct economic indexes that lead, lag or are coincident with a region’s business cycle. These indexes can be useful for short-term planning and forecasting, especially because there is no timely measure of aggregate economic activity for states and regions that is akin to GDP for the nation.

While the timing of the swings in District state economies are similar to those of the nation’s, there are some differences in the behavior of the states. Iowa’s overall economy is less synchronous with the nation than other District states. Presumably, Iowa’s much larger economic concentration in agriculture means that its economy fluctuates with commodity prices to a greater extent. For Indiana and Michigan, the amplitude of their economic swings are more profound—something that Michiganders, for example, have long tried to consider in their mechanisms to fund state government.

Michael Kouparitsas has previously researched the relative coincidence of business cycles among regions of the U.S (EP article). From a policy perspective, such studies reveal those instances, such as in the U.S., where adjacent regional economies are closely aligned. This alignment indicates that there are gains to having a common currency for our national economy (which we do, the U.S. dollar) as well as gains to conducting a common monetary policy for the overall economy (which we do through the Federal Reserve System). In addition to these policy implications, such research is helpful in understanding particular regional economies such as the Seventh District.