The state forecasts that Ohio’s manufacturing employment will remain flat between 2010 and 2020. Some fields, such as paper and printing manufacturing, are shedding jobs because of technological advancements and changing consumer habits.
But other fields that were projected to shrink, including machinery manufacturing, are adding jobs. While the future of manufacturing in Ohio remains unclear, there are signs that the employment trends could be better than anticipated.
Oil and gas production could be a game changer. The auto industry is revving up. And rising labor and transportation costs abroad could make U.S.-made goods more competitive.
“Ten years in a way is an eternity” for predicting employment trends, said Eric Burkland, president of the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association. “But Ohio manufacturing is much more competitive around the globe, and we are seeing a reversal of the offshoring, and that’s a very good thing.”
Manufacturing employment had declined for many years leading up to the recession that began in December 2007, but the downturn accelerated the rate of losses.
Manufacturing, however, has been one of the drivers of the lukewarm economic recovery, accounting for about one-fourth of the 141,600 jobs added in the state since 2010, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Payrolls still remain far below pre-recession levels.
Not all fields have grown, and some of the biggest job losses were among companies in printing and related support activities, which shed 1,500 workers between 2010 and 2012.
The past helps determine the future, and between 2010 and 2020, printing jobs will decrease 6 percent to 22,040, while paper manufacturing jobs in Ohio are expected to fall 9 percent to 18,300, according to employment projections produced by the Ohio Bureau of Labor Market Information.
These fields have been hurt by the digital revolution. Emails and electronic messaging have replaced letters and cards. Many consumers now view content on computers, tablets and cell phones instead of via paper copies.
“As new products and services are developed, the demand for older products and services may decline,” said Coretta Pettway, bureau chief of the state labor market information. “Digital communication is reducing the demand for paper.”
Another field that is projected to lose workers is machinery manufacturing. Payrolls in Ohio are expected to decline to 61,110 in 2020 from 66,400 in 2010.
Metalworking machinery manufacturing accounts for most of the projected losses, and those are partly tied to the increasing use of plastics and other materials to make products, rather than metal, experts said.
Employment in machinery manufacturing and some other fields is also expected to fall because of increased productivity resulting from technological advancements and automation, some industry experts said. Output has soared while employment has not. Improvements in productivity reduces the need for workers, they said.
U.S. manufacturing has entered a new era, marked by leaner workforces, increasing productivity and automation and greater global demand and competition.
“The productivity increases going on in manufacturing are incredible, and the output per worker is increasing dramatically,” said Burkland, with the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association. “That has the effect of dampening job growth.”
Other fields where job losses are forecast between 2010 and 2020 include computer and electronic product manufacturing (a 14.9 percent reduction in workers to 17,140); electrical equipment, appliances and components (a decrease of 1,910 workers to 23,510); and chemical manufacturing (a 5.4 percent decrease to 40,950 workers).
Overall, manufacturing employment is expected to remain virtually unchanged in Ohio during that 10-year period, falling 0.5 percent to 617,610 workers from 620,450.
But Burkland and others said the state’s employment projections underestimate growth in some key fields. For instance, machinery manufacturers have added 7,500 workers in Ohio since the start of the economic recovery, and employment stood at 74,000 in 2012, almost 13,000 more workers than projected for 2020.
Demand for these products and others has increased because buyers are finally replacing aging equipment, experts said. Also, foreign competitors, especially China, have been hurt by rising shipping and labor costs.
Other fields that are expected to see job losses but that have added workers include primary metal and electrical equipment, appliance and component manufacturing.
Some experts also said the projected job losses in chemical manufacturing are puzzling because oil and gas activities are booming in the eastern part of the state, leading to new jobs.
Ohio’s manufacturing sector employed 565,200 workers in 2012, 6 percent more workers than projected for 2020.
Despite anticipating job stagnation for the entire industry, the state projects that some fields will see healthy gains in coming years.
The state projects that between 2010 and 2020 employment in transportation equipment manufacturing will increase by 4,230 workers to 100,520.
Wood manufacturers in Ohio are expected to add 1,730 jobs, bringing employment to 12,910. Makers of rubber and plastic products are expected to add 2,420 jobs, increasing payrolls to 53,260 workers.
Jobs in many of these fields were offshored in the last few decades, but the work has returned or may return to the rust belt because of rising costs in countries with emerging economies, experts said.
Still, predicting what will happen 10 years into the future is virtually impossible, because new technologies and market forces could drastically change demand and labor needs, said Deb Norris, vice president of workforce development and corporate services at Sinclair Community College.
But, she said, the most positive news is manufacturing in Ohio is “alive and well,” and it will remain an important source of good-paying jobs indefinitely.