Manufacturing in area grows, but slowly

Job numbers pale compared to 20 years ago

So is manufacturing “back” in Dayton and southwest Ohio?

That depends on how you look at it.

The region recently has seen several welcome hiring announcements from DMAX, NuVasive, General Electric Aviation, MAHLE North America (formerly Behr Thermal Products) and others. Hundreds of workers are being sought.

Fuyao Glass America recently held two job fairs at Sinclair Community College for the Moraine plant it bought last year. The Chinese auto glass manufacturer could have as many as 2,000 employees at its Stroop Road plant by early 2017, more than twice the number of workers employed by General Motors when GM ceased operations at the same plant in 2008.

But for all the recent good news, a different picture emerges when you widen your perspective.

According to Federal Reserve data, manufacturing employment in the Dayton metropolitan statistical area (MSA) has declined steadily in the past 20 years. (Defined by the Census Bureau, the Dayton MSA consists of Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Preble counties.)

From October 1995 to October 2015, workers employed in manufacturing in the Dayton MSA fell from 75,100 to 41,600, according to the Federal Reserve.

But from a low point of October 2009 — technically after the recent recession ended in the second quarter of 2009 — the number of workers employed in manufacturing has increased, from 35,600, according to the Fed.

Small gains

Longtime residents know those numbers make sense: The local manufacturing footprint is simply smaller compared to 20 years ago. For example, just one company, auto parts-maker Delphi, had about 15,000 employees in the Dayton area in 1999.

Delphi closed its sole remaining area plant in Vandalia this year to consolidate operations at the MAHLE plant, and its local employee number is zero.

To be sure, other segments of blue-collar Ohio were hit in the past 20 years. From October 1995 to October 2015, manufacturing employment in the Cincinnati MSA fell from 147,000 to 113,400 workers.

And like Dayton, the Cincinnati MSA saw a rebound. In October 2009, the Cincinnati area had just 103,700 manufacturing workers, data shows.

In the Cleveland-Elyria MSA, in the same 20-year span, manufacturing employment fell from 200,900 to 125,300. That area saw a slight rebound from October 2009, when it had 114,000 workers, according to the Fed.

Alan Tonelson, founder of the RealityChek economic blog and a former analyst at the U.S. Business and Industry Council, says Fed data is spot on.

Using different time frames, he finds that since the official start of the last recession — in late 2007 — statewide Ohio manufacturing employment fell by 19.6 percent.

For the U.S., it fell by 14.7 percent, he said.

But from June 2009 (the official end of the recession) to October 2015, manufacturing jobs across Ohio grew 12.9 percent, he said. In the U.S., the increase has been 5 percent.

“What it tells you is that the Ohio manufacturing slump, in terms of jobs, was much worse than that experienced by the nation as whole … and the Ohio rebound has been much stronger,” Tonelson said.

Manufacturing output is key, he said. If companies don’t have output, they don’t employ workers. Ohio manufacturing output has risen faster than the nation as a whole, he said.

Increased sales

Steve Staub, president of Staub Manufacturing Solutions in Dayton, agrees.

Staub’s company purchased a $1.5 million laser-cutting machine last summer. It can do the cutting and shaping work of six employees, but that’s the kind of productivity Staub said he needs to stay competitive.

Staub has 24 employees. He admits that he had more workers in 2008 — but back then he had only two-thirds of the sales he sees today.

“That’s kind of the way the industry is right now,” he said.

Cleveland economist George Zeller sees that same phenomenon.

“The manufacturing growth is to a level far below what the number of manufacturing jobs was 15 years ago in 2000, both in Ohio and in metro Dayton-Springfield,” Zeller said in an email.

Gary Conley, president and chief executive of Cincinnati business consultant TechSolve (and a former president of CityWide Development Corp. in Dayton) agrees that the number of manufacturing workers is not what it used to be.

But other sectors of the economy are being fueled by growth in manufacturing productivity, Conley said.

It takes ever-increasing numbers of people in other sectors to serve manufacturing. It takes workers in research and development, human resources, IT, legal and food services and more to support output, he said.

“Where would the U.S. economy be, or for that matter the Dayton economy … had not manufacturing become and continue to become as productive as it has been?” Conley said.

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