Where the manufacturing jobs are

Ronald A. Wirtz Editor, fedgazette

Published October 30, 2012   |  October 2012 issue

It’s a common belief that there are no manufacturing jobs left in the United States, much less in sparsely populated places like the Dakotas.

Ratio mapThe data suggest otherwise. While the overall economy’s share of manufacturing jobs has been in decline for several decades, manufacturing still has a major presence in the Ninth District economy. That’s particularly the case in some district states, and even certain regions in the Dakotas and Montana, three states whose economies have historically depended more on agriculture and natural resource extraction than manufacturing.

Total mapAcross the 303 Ninth District counties, fully one-third have more manufacturing jobs (as a percentage of all jobs) than the national average of about 10 percent (see “Ratio” map). Thirty-seven counties have manufacturing job ratios above 20 percent—more than twice the national average. All of them are located between western Wisconsin and the eastern portion of the Dakotas. Seventeen counties have more than 5,000 manufacturing jobs, and Hennepin County (home to Minneapolis) has more manufacturing jobs than North and South Dakota combined (see “Total” map).

Change mapLast year was also a very good year for manufacturing employment growth (see “Change” map). The majority of district counties saw positive growth, and some saw extraordinary growth. A handful of counties in western North Dakota, for example, experienced double-digit manufacturing job growth last year, thanks to the voracious appetite for equipment used in the booming oil and gas industry in the Bakken oil shale formation.