Category Archives: Manufacturing

Where is automotive employment in the Seventh District?

Perhaps the most notable economic development taking place in the Seventh District is the market shift away from the traditional “Big 3” domestic auto makers–General Motors, Ford, and (Daimler)-Chrysler–and their parts suppliers. Lost sales are shifting toward the “new domestics” such as Toyota and Nissan and their parts suppliers. The sales gainers tend to be located outside of the Midwest to a greater degree than the Big 3. This shift is documented and analyzed in a recent Economic Perspectives article by Thomas Klier and Dan McMillen. This market upheaval is tending to idle and displace workers in many Midwest communities. Per Klier and McMillen, Michigan automotive employment is down almost one-third since 1979 while southern states such as Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and the Carolinas have experienced a tripling of jobs.

But despite these shifts, Detroit and much of the Midwest continues to be the center of the production. Which particular communities remain most sensitive to future swings in automotive fortunes? The data below attribute automotive employment to particular metropolitan areas in the Seventh District. Those metropolitan areas with green shading had an employment concentration in automotive that exceeded the nation; those shaded in red had a lesser concentration. Looking across metropolitan areas in the entire Seventh District region, an east-west split in auto employment concentration becomes very apparent. The Michigan-Indiana corridor contains most of the metropolitan areas having an above-average concentration. Darkly-shaded metropolitan areas in southeast Michigan are exceptionally concentrated in automotive. So too, an east-west band of metropolitan areas across north central Indiana is steeped in automotive employment.

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A numerical listing of automotive employment below shows just how concentrated some communities can be. Metropolitan areas including Detroit/Livonia/Deaborn, Flint, Holland, Saginaw, Battle Creek, and Lansing/East Lansing in Michigan all reported concentrations over 5 times the national average, as did the Kokomo and Lafayette metro areas in Indiana.

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The final table below further illustrates the sharp geographic rift in employment fortunes over the 1990-2005 period. As a whole, the state of Michigan lost over 64,000 jobs in automotive, on net accounting for all job losses nationally. Largely due to the Michigan experience, the Seventh District states experienced an 18 percent decline in automotive jobs since 1990 while the remainder of the U.S. experienced a 3 percent gain in similar employment.

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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.

How should we gauge manufacturing’s importance?

Manufacturing jobs and income are shrinking as a share of the national economy as well as the Midwest economy. Some representatives of manufacturers raise this fact in alarm, worrying that the shrinkage leaves the nation unable to support its needs and wants. But at the same time, some manufacturing advocates sometimes claim that the sector’s is mis-measured and undercounted. Meanwhile, economists mostly applaud diminishing manufacturing jobs as a harbinger of continued enhancements to productivity and standards of living for the average household, pointing instead to rising real output of manufactured goods available at ever-lower prices. How, then, should we think about and measure the economic importance of manufacturing?

To use an agricultural metaphor, manufacturing is no small potatoes for many Midwest communities. In the Seventh District states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin, personal income directly coming from manufacturing activity, on average, is more than 50 percent more concentrated than in the nation as a whole. Much of this personal income reflects wage and salary income attendant to jobs in the sector, as shown below. What’s more, such income and jobs are augmented by services related to manufacturing, such as transportation and warehousing, as well as white-collar business services that are purchased locally by manufacturing operations. All of this, of course, means jobs and income to Midwest residents, firms, and households.

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It is no small concern to manufacturing workers and communities, then, that income and jobs derived from manufacturing have been shrinking as a share of the economy. However, along with other economists, Senior Business Economist Bill Strauss of the Chicago Fed has pointedly illustrated that what is troubling to those who are discomfited is the very same phenomenon that brings about rapidly rising standards of living across a broad spectrum of households. The perpetual innovation and advances in productivity by manufacturers, accompanied by sharp competition among manufacturing firms, have delivered, on average, cheaper, more customized, more durable, and higher quality manufactured goods to households.

Government statisticians at the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) calculate prices for manufactured goods purchased in the U.S., and they also do so for a standardized unit of a “real good” including autos, frozen foods, appliances, etc. Qualitative advancements in such manufactured goods are folded into counts of “real goods output,” meaning the total amount—both quantity and quality—of what we buy with our household income.

Over time, such measures show that real output growth by manufacturers in the U.S. and Midwest economies has kept pace with output or total gross domestic product (GDP) growth. Accordingly, if we measure real output produced by the manufacturing sector as a share of the overall economy, the manufacturing share would be virtually constant rather than declining. This is in apparent contradiction to the falling share of income and jobs derived from manufacturing activity.

Yet, in this there is really no paradox when we take into account the fact that the prices of manufacturing goods have fallen even while output has risen. That is, households and businesses are buying a greater “real” quantity of goods, but they are spending less on them overall because falling prices have more than offset the growing quantities being purchased. As illustrated and discussed in the 2004 Economic Report of the President, household and business purchases of manufactured goods have swelled in response to bargain prices, but not enough to sustain the manufacturing sector’s share of total revenue (and income).

A much lesser reason for manufacturing’s falling share is that a greater portion of domestic goods are produced abroad. As the Report illustrates, if the U.S. trade deficit had been hypothetically held to zero while U.S. manufacturing productivity were allowed to improve at its historic rate from 1970 to 2000, the U.S. proportion of employment in manufacturing would be only 14 percent in year 2000 rather than its actual 13 percent. Accordingly, rising productivity in domestic manufacturing accounts for the lion’s share of the decline in manufacturing share of employment from 25 percent in 1970. And yes, even that part of the shift from manufacturing to services related to the rise in imports has helped to buoy U.S. living standards because some goods can be produced abroad more cheaply, thereby allowing U.S. workers to instead produce greater services for domestic consumption.

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Manufacturing Update

Manufacturing activity holds an outsized importance in the economy of the Midwest. The Midwest regional economy derives approximately 53 percent more than the national average of personal income from manufacturing. The map below illustrates the relative share of payroll employment in manufacturing across U.S. states.

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Five years ago, manufacturing led the U.S. economy into an economic decline. Real output in manufacturing steeply declined even while consumer spending continued to grow, if only weakly. In both the region and the nation, sagging output translated into layoffs and net job losses. From mid-2000 to mid-2003, manufacturing employment dropped 16 percent in the nation and 17 percent in the Seventh Federal Reserve District states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

To assess the existing conditions and future prospects for manufacturing, the Chicago Fed organized a series of three conferences beginning in late 2003. The Manufacturing Assessment Project’s major conclusions were as follows:

  • The manufacturing-oriented national decline beginning in mid-year 2000 was led by sagging exports (reflecting slower global economic growth) and by a precipitous drop in investment spending (driven by a traditional slowdown in growth, as well as excessive investment spending during the late 1990s, especially in high technology communications equipment.)
  • The decline in Midwest manufacturing employment was in proportion to the national decline. In the past, the Midwest had experienced a steeper decline than the nation due to the region’s high concentration in manufacturing durable goods—including both capital goods machinery and autos.
  • Although manufacturing employment declined proportionately in the region versus the nation, its impact was more severe in the Midwest due to the region’s heavier concentration in manufacturing.

What kept Midwest manufacturing from falling more steeply (as it had done in past recessions) during the economic downturn in 2001? High-tech production activity fell off the map nationally. This hurt some other regions more than the Midwest, because the Midwest economy is not heavily concentrated in computing and communication equipment. In addition, consumer spending on autos was buoyed by low interest rates and by automotive company sales incentives. Finally, continuing foreign competition from very low-wage countries (especially China) affected other regions such as the Southeast more severely, where there is a concentration in low-value-added industries, especially textiles and clothing.

The severity of the 2001 recession and its aftermath led some observers to believe that Midwest manufacturing had taken a negative and permanent deviation from its long- term performance. However, most argued that, aside from the unusual manufacturing orientation of this 2001 recession, there was little reason to conclude that manufacturing performance was in any way inconsistent with long-term trends. In particular, over the long term, strong real output growth in the U.S. has been achieved through robust productivity growth, especially in durable goods production. In the process, the employment share of manufacturing has been declining approximately 2 percent per year since the late 1950s.

The share of income directly derived from manufacturing activity has also been falling. Rising productivity and competitive markets have led to falling prices for manufactured goods in the U.S. Falling prices have stimulated greater domestic demand for manufactured goods, but not enough to offset falling prices. A less important but still significant factor is that a greater share of domestic demand for manufactured goods is being served from offshore.

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Manufacturing exit tough on Midwest central cities

If current trends continue, manufacturing activity will soon become extinct as a part of central city economies. The reasons for this exodus are largely the result of shifts in the technology of many types of production activity. Central cities—especially in the Midwest and Northeast—are generally densely populated and somewhat congested. Such conditions are not ideal for production activity. Many central cities vigorously attempt public policies to preserve manufacturing jobs, but the opposing forces appear to be very strong.

At one time, many central cities were the preferred locale for manufacturers. The reasons can be boiled down to two, transportation of laborers and transportation of materials.

As for labor, factories were once teeming with laborers. But due to labor-saving productivity gains, today’s factories are sparsely populated even though they produce many times more output. Senior Business Economist Bill Strauss calculates that today it takes 200 U.S. manufacturing workers to produce the same amount of product as 1,000 workers in 1950. Accordingly, during those earlier labor-intensive times, the transportation of manufacturing workers to the job site figured much more heavily into the factory cost equation. Transportation efficiency once was served by factory neighborhoods in central cities where workers could more easily commute by walking, driving, or by public transportation. The higher living density of central cities also meant that public services such as education and sanitation could be delivered cheaply to workers. Of course, it is not only manufacturing technology that changed. Better highways and rising standards of living (translated into higher car ownership) have also contributed to the ability of factories to staff their factories with (fewer) workers who live farther away. In turn, this opens up factory sites in suburban and rural areas.

Better highways, road vehicles, and logistics technology have also made the transportation of production material to central cities less attractive in comparison to areas of lower population density. Economically, railroads once dominated long-haul truck transportation of materials and components used in manufacturing, as well as the shipment of finished goods to other final markets. The technology of rail favors convergence into a central location (i.e., central cities) rather than the dispersed locations that are served by the crisscross pattern of our now ubiquitous highways. Over time, construction of divided highways and the advent of trucks having features such as refrigeration, trailers, and easily transferred containers have facilitated factory sites served by roads rather than by rail. Accordingly, factory sites can now better take advantage of the low land costs of rural and suburban areas rather than being restricted to those of the central cities.

The City of Chicago exemplifies the central city experience with manufacturing jobs. The chart below shows that, by one reckoning, manufacturing jobs in the city have declined from 367,000 in 1976 to under 100,000 today—a loss of approximately 10,000 per year. In contrast, the employment experience of Chicago’s suburban areas has been much milder.

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Manufacturing and regional policy

The manufacturing downturn that began the current decade affected the Midwest more severely than the rest of the nation. In response to recent manufacturing decline, at least one consortium of manufacturers is now forming on a region-wide basis to share best practices and to promote manufacturing in the Midwest.

As measured by manufacturing employment, the combined declines in the Seventh District states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin were very sharp. The chart below shows a decline of 18.7% in the Seventh District since 1999, accounting for a net job loss of 616,900 workers in the sector. The pace of these declines was roughly in line with the national experience. However, because the region is so highly concentrated in manufacturing, the sting of manufacturing decline was sharper here. The second half of the chart below recasts manufacturing job loss in the region, weighting it proportionately by the higher concentration of manufacturing in the region versus the overall United States. In doing so, the index suggests that the impact of the actual 18.7% decline in the Midwest was similar to that of a 25.7% nationwide decline.

Source: Bureau of Labor and Statistics/HAVER Analytics

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Manufacturing job losses may also be magnified in the Midwest to the extent that ancillary activities to manufacturing are lost, such as transportation, warehousing, and the business services purchased regionally by manufacturing companies. Estimates are that, for each $1 of manufacturing production, manufacturing companies spend another 33 cents on purchased services.

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