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August 30, 2006

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.

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Posted by Testa at 10:00 AM | Comments (0)

August 24, 2006

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.

Manufacturing representatives sometimes claim that manufacturing is not shrinking as share of current economic activity or at least that the shrinkage is being greatly overstated. Rather, the sector is being undercounted because some functions previously performed by manufacturing companies have now been outsourced to service companies. A consistent accounting of manufacturing activity would show it to be more sizable.

This latter assertion is partly true and but it does little to alter the long-term reality that the proportion of income and jobs derived from the manufacturing sector has fallen dramatically over many years. For one, it is true that U.S. manufacturers are increasingly relying on temporary workers rather than on their own employees. In official tallies, these temp workers are attributed to the services sector rather than to manufacturing. Yet, while their numbers expanded by roughly one-half million in the U.S. during the 1990s, according to a study by Estavao and Lach, they still made up only 5 percent of the manufacturing work force.

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The outsourcing of functions by manufacturing companies is perhaps more important in mismeasuring manufacturing activity. Greater specialization of business functions, including accounting, marketing, payroll, information technology (IT), human resource management, research and development (R&D), strategic management, and public relations, has taken place such that most businesses—not only manufacturing— have come to outsource an increasing share of such activities. The snapshot below is drawn from data from U.S. Input-Output tables that are estimated by the BEA. In particular, manufacturing companies are shown below to be purchasing increasing amounts of business services in relation to each dollar of their own output since 1982. Not all of this service growth derives from outsourcing from manufacturing companies. Manufacturers are also using more services to deliver goods than in the past. In other words, the knowledge content of final goods delivered to households and businesse is higher than before. For example, pharmaceutical production may require an increasing amount of both R&D and testing services purchased by pharmaceutical companies, as well as legal, advertising and public relations services.

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I have constructed a rough accounting of total purchased services by U.S. manufacturing companies from 1958 onward. The construction subtracts the BEA’s measure of manufacturing from the U.S. Census Bureau’s measure of value added in manufacturing. Since the U.S. Census’s value added includes services purchased by manufacturing companies, the difference provides an estimate of purchased services. For the U.S., I find that in the late 1950s, manufacturing companies purchased approximately 16 cents of services for every one dollar of their own output. This had climbed to 30 cents in recent years.

The figure below illustrates the generous and comprehensive measure of “manufacturing activity” for both the U.S. and for the Great Lakes region from 1977 to 2001. The color additions represent purchased services, which are shown to considerably inflate the share of manufacturing in total economic activity—be it GDP or its state equivalent, gross state product (GSP). However, regardless of the inclusion of purchased services, manufacturing activity is shown to be steadily declining as share of output.

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To return to the agricultural metaphor, is it appropriate to think of U.S. manufacturing as we do production agriculture? The parallels are often drawn. Production agriculture employed close to one-half of the U.S. workforce prior to the dawn of the twentieth century. Subsequently, tremendous gains in productivity provided magnificent improvements to the American diet while shrinking the size of the sector to 3 percent of the work force. In broad perspective, the remainder of the work force have now been freed to deliver to us a great array of services and goods, even as we eat better.

Although the parallel to manfacturing is instructive in some ways, not all observers would be satisfied in relegating manufacturing to the backwaters of economic history along with agriculture. For one, some argue that the sector continues to be the chief engine of innovation in overall U.S. productivity and innovation growth. While the manufacturing sector has diminished in size, it continues to be responsible for a greatly outsized share of the nation’s R&D. As of 2001, manufacturing funded 44 percent of the nation’s R&D, or $199 billion. This amounts to an innovative intensity that is roughly four times the size of the sector’s own activity.

Moreover, it is also argued that the much of the payoff or “economic returns” to this innovation accrues outside of the manufacturing sector to a great extent. That is, there are large spillover benefits to R&D performed by manufacturers. In particular, as service firms providing health or personal services or business services learn to use new and innovative capital equipment such as IT equipment, medical equipment, or pharmaceuticals, their own productivity continues to grow or accelerate.

In the end, how should we measure manufacturing’s importance to the U.S. economy? The answer is, of course, “in many ways.” For manufacturing communities and workers, it will be helpful to track the diminishing (sometimes growing) shares of manufacturing jobs and income in the economy. Communities will sometimes need to consider how to best transition to new economic base sectors; workers will sometimes need to transition toward new or enhanced occupational skills or even to different locales.

In continuing to track productivity or “real” output growth of manufacturing, nations and regions will gain a better understanding of the sources of national growth and living standards. In this, there are several important public policy arenas. Which particular public policies with respect to public investment in fundamental scientific research and technical education give rise to productivity innovations? What regulatory environment is most fertile with respect to the protection of intellectual property, promotion of competition among global firms, and the flow of workers and their ideas across international borders? How much should we be investing in public infrastructure of importance to manufacturing such as roadways, ports, and air cargo airports? How much and in what ways do open global markets for investments, services, and manufactured goods lift our standards of living?

If we get such questions right, the size of manufacturing of the manufacturing sector will be just right. That is because, in market economies such as ours, both service and goods-producing firms compete, adjust, evolve, and innovate and, in the process, they provide households with the services that they desire. Whether those services emanate from manufactured goods or whether they are provided directly to households by service workers is not at issue.

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Posted by Testa at 1:43 PM | Comments (0)

August 16, 2006

Business services as a growth sector for Great Lakes cities?

As manufacturing activity shrinks and relocates, large cities of the Midwest look to another staple of their economic base, business and professional services. Large cities everywhere typically serve as centers of finance, communication, governance, and varied business services. In the Midwest, business service specializations in cities originally derived from goods production, as surrounding farms and factories looked to cities for financing, advertising, management expertise, product design, legal services, and engineering, as well as computer systems advice, more recently.

In the past few decades, agriculture and manufacturing activity have been shrinking in the Midwest, at least in terms of nominal personal income arising from manufacturing firms. In the overall U.S., for example, personal income derived from manufacturing activity has fallen from 32.9 percent to 15.5 percent from 1969 to 2004. This falloff is especially prominent in large Midwest cities, where manufacturing once thrived due to urban freight transportation advantages and the intense workforce needs of mass production.

Can advanced business services help fill the void in Midwest cities’ economies? There are several reasons to focus attention on these industries. First, there is already a pronounced urban location propensity for business services, so prospects for this sector in large cities are perhaps better than for others; also, in the overall U.S. economy, the business services sector has recently been a growth leader. Finally, many business services employ highly skilled occupations, and they tend to generate high levels of wages and income that may directly and indirectly buoy large city economies.

On the latter point, as formally defined by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), the “professional and technical services sector,” NAICS sector 54, tends to employ an above-average share of highly-educated (and highly paid) workers. As described by federal government statistical agencies (Census and BLS), the sector’s industries employ many executive and technical occupations, namely those found in research and development, legal services, management consulting, accounting, advertising, engineering, public relations, and product design.

In the analysis that follows, a focus on the NAICS 54 sector is advantageous because its services are almost exclusively sold to other businesses rather than to households, and many of these services can be sold to customers located far away. In thinking about regional economies, such tradable services may offer a wide scope for possible growth and development. Moreover, data covering employment in the sector are available for geographic regions as small as metropolitan areas.

Rapid growth characterizes the business services sector. The chart below illustrates that as a share of total payroll employment, “professional and technical services” has expanded from 4.2% to 5.3% from 1990 to 2005. The sector’s average annual growth of 3.0% per year easily exceeds that of total payroll job growth (1.3%), adding 2.5 million jobs to the U.S. economy since 1990.

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Business services’ urban orientation can be conveniently described by an index of employment. The concentration index is the ratio of two shares. For the ratio, the numerator is the business services sector’s share of total jobs in a particular region. The denominator is the business services sector’s share of total jobs in the overall U.S. And so, for example, if the sectoral share of total jobs in a particular region is equal to the sectoral share of jobs in the U.S., the index will take on a value of one. To the extent that a region’s share of jobs found in business services exceeds the nation’s, the index takes on a value greater than one, and so on.

Such a concentration index is constructed below for the most populous metropolitan areas in the U.S. The top five metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs)—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco—are, taken as group, more than 50 percent more concentrated in business services jobs than the overall U.S. Moreover, an hierarchy of this concentration by city size is evident as we expand the index to include less populous metropolitan areas. Though still well above parity with the nation, the indexes of the top ten and top 20 most populous metropolitan areas lie below the concentration of the top five most populous metropolitan areas.

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Time trends in business services employment also tell us some important economic features. Most prominently, the concentration of business services employment in large urban areas has been falling (i.e., business services jobs have been spreading out toward smaller cities) in the U.S. since 1990. Apparently, the greater ability and lower cost to communicate electronically over time has allowed smaller cities, as well as other nonurban settings, to win out over large, densely populated cities that more easily facilitate face-to-face interactions.

It has been observed that business services employment dipped more than the overall employment during the recessionary periods of the early 1990s and 2000–03. Such cyclical sensitivity to the general economy has long characterized so-called blue-collar and production employment, but its emergence for occupations in business services was somewhat novel during the recession of 1990–91 and its aftermath, when labor market restructuring of mid-level managers and other white-collar occupations took place. In the more recent recessionary period, white-collar employment declines in business services were associated somewhat with the slackening of investment in information equipment and associated services. More generally, many business services may be characterized as “investment goods” by companies, meaning that their purchase tends to slacken during recessionary and subsequent recovery periods, when firms no longer need to expand their own production capacity.

Midwestern metropolitan areas have generally followed these national trends and characteristics of NAICS 54 employment, although there have been some exceptions. For one, as shown below, some of the region’s large metropolitan areas are generally less concentrated in business services as measured against the national employment structure. In part, this follows from the higher manufacturing intensity of Midwest cities; by construction, if a region’s employment base is high in one sector, that concentration must be offset in the others. And so, although Des Moines, Milwaukee, and Indianapolis are centers of business services in relation to the surrounding Midwest areas, their employment base is less concentrated in business services (as narrowly defined) than is the U.S. employment base.

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The Chicago and Detroit metropolitan areas register as the most concentrated in business services among large metropolitan areas in the Midwest, with Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis–St. Paul also registering concentrations well above the national average.

Owing to its reputation for automotive manufacturing, it will surprise some to find that the Detroit metropolitan area claims the largest concentration in business services. In fact, in this regard, Detroit leads the Chicago area, which is generally renowned as the region’s services and financial capital.

A closer look at the employment structures within the general category of business services raises some interesting and serious questions about the growth prospects of business services for large metropolitan areas in the Midwest. The bar chart below displays the concentration indexes for each detailed business services category, comparing the Detroit MSA with the Chicago MSA.

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Chicago and Detroit specialize in different sectors of business services. The Detroit MSA scored highest for “architectural and engineering services,” while Chicago scores lowest in this category. This specialization’s high score in Detroit reflects the product engineering completed for the automotive industry, much of which is driven by local demand by domestic automakers. However, some of Detroit's business services have evolved to serve global customers as well. Another one of Detroit’s employment concentrations, scientific research and development (R&D), also largely reflects Detroit’s reputation as a global research and design center for the world’s prominent automakers. Toyota, for example, has recently announced a new $150 million R&D facility to be built near Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Chicago MSA’s most significant specialization is “management and technical consulting.” The Chicago area is the domicile of major offices of world-renowned management consulting firms, including Accenture, Booz Allen Hamilton, McKinsey & Company, and A.T. Kearney. Facilitated by the strong air travel connections at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, these firms’ consulting operations are able to serve clients throughout the region, the nation, and the world.

As the Midwest’s historic industry specializations decline in size, especially manufacturing, such business and professional services will be increasingly important in maintaining the region’s size and high household incomes. But to what degree are such industries derivative and dependent on local manufacturing itself? If sales to local firms dominate these sectors, then the prospects are possibly dimmer because productivity gains in goods production continues to shrink the nominal share of income derived from manufacturing and agriculture.

The recent employment performances in business services in Detroit and Chicago offer some clues regarding the degree to which business service firms in the Midwest have expanded their customer base beyond the immediate region. The evidence suggests that business services in these cities do continue to depend on midwestern customer demand in an important way. Midwest employment growth has been lagging significantly since the 2001 recession. At the same time, as the chart below suggests, local employment in the professional and technical services category has also dipped to a greater degree than the national employment, suggesting that the demand for these services derive from local rather than national or global markets. Moreover, further analysis of the employment data suggest that these cities' steeper-than-national-average declines did not result from any unfortunate mix of industry subsectors in Chicago and Detroit. In particular, had Detroit's individual industries under the NAICS 54 category each grown at the national rate from 2001-2004, the larger sector's decline would have totalled only 2.1 percent rather than the actual 7.3 percent decline. And similarly for Chicago, rather than the actual 9.7 percent decline over the period, the NAICS 54 employment decline would have amounted to only .8 percent. And so, though the evidence is not definitive, it appears from this performance that the NAICS 54 sector in Chicago and Detroit continues to serve regional markets to some considerable degree.

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Professional and technical services continue to be important national growth sectors that merit a close watch by Midwest economic analysts. Nationally and regionally, these sectors continue to grow as goods producers and other businesses expand their use of such specialized services and as they outsource some business services that were previously conducted in-house. Regionally, given the slower pace of business expansion in the Midwest, the growth prospects for large Midwest cities, such as Detroit and Chicago, would probably be more robust should their business services firms expand their markets throughout the nation and the world.

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Posted by Testa at 1:56 PM | Comments (0)

August 9, 2006

New revised Midwest economy website!

Last fall, we made available our first ever website devoted to understanding and analyzing the Seventh District economy. This month, we have revised our website, adding new features and making it easier to use.

As you first view our new home page, you will see a convenient navigation bar with five major choices, organized under tabs. First and most prominently, the “features” appear as the default page. The "features" page alerts the regular visitor to the most current and exciting developments. Currently, the features page lists our Midwest blog on current issues and conditions, as well as announcements of upcoming conference events to be held here at the Chicago Fed. Senior economist Rick Mattoon has fashioned a conference program for October, which examines the varied relationships between the presence of a local university or college and surrounding economic growth and development. Prior to that event, Dave Oppedahl will conduct an event in conjunction with the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations that will examine developments in global agriculture as it affects Midwest communities and business.

The second tab directs the viewer to our "data page" which displays current trends in employment and output for the District and its states—Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The page also includes an interactive tool so that site visitors can construct and customize their own graphs and charts of the region. On the right hand sidebar, don’t miss the District state profiles that have been provided to us by some of the local state economic gurus.

The third tab, “articles,” catalogs the many research articles that we have penned over the past 15 years and which appear in our Bank publication series. These articles continue to be arranged by topic, but we now precede the bibliography with a tool allowing the viewer to jump directly to the section of articles by topic heading. These topic headings include, for example, state and local fiscal analysis and regional agriculture, banking, community development, and education.

The fourth tab leads the viewer to our "special projects." So far, we have conducted long-term projects on the Midwest economy, Midwest infrastructure, and, most recently, Midwest manufacturing. Within each project, the visitor will find both presentations delivered by renowned analysts during the course of the project as well as their conference papers.

Finally, the "conferences" page presents hyperlinked materials from our varied topic areas, including labor, energy, automotive industry, and economic growth, among others. For each conference, a conference agenda reprises the event, such as our automotive parts industry conference held this past April. The agenda lists the speakers such that a particular speaker’s presentation is linked to his or her name. Conference papers, proceedings, and summaries can also be found for most of the conferences.

What is missing? We’d like you to talk to us and to ask us questions about the Midwest economy, our research, and our insights on Midwest policy issues. To do so, visit our “economists” page where you will find our e-mail addresses. We can be found under the “Regional Analysis” banner. Talk to you soon!

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Posted by Testa at 2:18 PM | Comments (0)

August 4, 2006

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.

The Midwest has shared in manufacturing productivity gains and output expansion which, in turn, have ultimately given rise to higher standards of living in the U.S. On the downside, the region’s high concentration in manufacturing employment has contributed to its slower-than-national growth of total employment and population.

An important exception to the Midwest’s similarity to the national economy is the ongoing geographic shift in automotive production from the Midwest to the South Central and Southeast regions. This shift derives from a large sales share shift from the former Big 3 automakers and their suppliers to the “new domestic” automakers, especially Toyota and Nissan, who have tended to move southward.

A follow-up automotive conference this year highlighted how the geographical shift and industry upheaval are affecting the broader automotive parts industry. The following are some of the interesting conclusions that emerged from this gathering:

  1. The automotive parts industry is three to four times larger than assembly operations as measured by employment.
  2. The auto supplier sector is paralleling the geographical shift toward the South by automotive assembly plants.
  3. Foreign ownership of auto parts companies is increasing.
  4. Both assembly plants and parts makers seem to avoid union and hostile or overly costly labor market environments, if they can do so.
  5. The challenge for the Midwest’s retention of the parts and assembly industry does not appear insurmountable. Shortages of skilled workers in the South are possibly forestalling more rapid investment there. So too, the bulk of the industry remains in the Midwest so that the region’s locational pull continues to be strong. Domestic auto companies are also strategically restructuring to be more competitive.

What has transpired since we began the Manufacturing Assessment Project?

Investment spending has recovered, pulling both regional and U.S. manufacturing output growth along with it. Nationally, high-tech/info-tech production has also recovered.

In the Midwest, machinery and other basic capital goods production have greatly recovered and some sectors continue to expand. Regionally, basic industrial equipment such as electrical, construction, and mining equipment are growing strongly, while automotive production continues to flag. This has created an east-west tilt, favoring economic growth in the western part of the Great Lakes economy in relation to the auto-oriented states of Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan.

As global growth has recovered, U.S. exports have also recovered, pulling along domestic manufacturing output—especially capital goods exports. Export growth in the Seventh District has outpaced the nation.

Domestic light vehicle sales have been largely flat during the current decade at 16-17 million units per year. Sales shares have continued to shift away from the former Big 3 and their suppliers, so that many states and communities that now host related production facilities remain in crisis.

Today’s robust manufacturing output growth is largely being achieved through strong productivity growth and with little expansion in the work force. As indicated by the charts below, these productivity trends are playing out in both the nation and the region. The region’s higher concentration in manufacturing may be retarding its employment and population growth in relation to the U.S., even while it is lifting household incomes and standards of living across the nation.

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Posted by Testa at 2:16 PM | Comments (0)