Utah’s manufacturing employment picture continues to improve

By Bart Taylor | Nov 18, 2014

It would be misleading to look at manufacturing job gains in places like Utah and Colorado without also considering what was lost the prior decades. Neither state has rebounded to pre-recession levels of manufacturing employment and moreover, job losses in industrial centers like Indiana were of a different scale entirely. Indiana had 513,200 manufacturing jobs in September 2008, but lost about 87,800 over the next nine months. That's easily more than half the size of the entire manufacturing workforce in Utah.

But what our region lacks in size it makes up for in relative growth, and as we chronicle every month, in possibilities for the future. Utah has added manufacturing jobs for three consecutive years and, like Colorado, is doing so at a pace that's national news.

Here's the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics summary, from September 2014:

As I wrote last issue, manufacturing has grown year-over-year in Colorado faster than any other employment sector and fourth-fastest nationally. Utah's not far behind, and the pace is quickening, surpassing the 1.9% rate of growth from August 2012 through August '13.

As the region sets its sights on pre-recession levels with the opportunity to surge past those numbers, the national landscape does provide an interesting lens to view the sectors comeback. Wisconsin's been very aggressive in investing in manufacturing -- much of it around a focus on the state's agricultural base -- and it's paying off. Indiana, which took such a heavy hit, is benefitting from international trends benefitting industrial U.S. activity.

Colorado's benefitted from its booming energy play, but also shares the broad-based attributes of its neighbor to the west. Both states are benefitting from a steady influx of smart, talented, motivated young professionals. Capital continues to be a challenge for small business, but entrepreneurship is not. Both states place communities on most any 'best places to live, work, or start a business' list, a trend that portends well for the future.

Manufacturing across numerous sectors is poised for further gains along in the Rocky Mountain west -- with high-growth likely along the Wasatch Front.

Bart Taylor is founder and publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach him at btaylor@companyweek.com.