Top 5 U.S. Cities for Advanced Manufacturing

October 9, 2014

For at least 20 years, many Americans all but wrote off manufacturing as of factory jobs simply evaporated or went overseas. It's time to think again. Advanced manufacturing has come roaring back to life in many places, often in the nation’s hardest-hit industrial towns. Many advanced manufacturing jobs don’t require a four-year college degree, so you can start working and earning just a year or two after high school. But make no mistake: this is not low-skilled work. Most of the fastest-growing jobs in the sector -- like computer-controlled machine operation or repair of high-tech industrial equipment—require strong math, science, and technology skills.

These middle-skilled advanced manufacturing jobs* are likely to become even hotter as older workers retire. Fifty-two percent of the advanced manufacturing workforce is 45 or older. Compare that to just 42 percent for the workforce as a whole.

The top five cities for advanced manufacturing (based on CTEq’s analysis of the nation’s 100 biggest metro areas) are:

5. Tulsa, Oklahoma

Downtown Tulsa

Tulsa has seen rapid growth in advanced manufacturing jobs: a 27 percent increase since 2009. That is good news for the city. A new study finds that each manufacturing job helps create almost two additional jobs in other sectors.

4. Houston, Texas

Image of Houston

Houston is by far the biggest city in our top five list, and it has also seen robust growth: 30 percent in the last five years. The booming energy industry, together with a strong high-tech sector, has helped advanced manufacturing jobs surge ahead.

3. Detroit, Michigan

Detroit at Dusk

Detroit has been the poster child for industrial decline for so long that many have missed the quiet renaissance of the city’s manufacturing sector. The advanced manufacturing jobs we examined have grown 37 percent since 2009, driven, no doubt, by the auto industry's recent return from the dead.

2. Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grand Rapids--bridge

Grand Rapids doesn’t generally leap to mind as a manufacturing center, but of the nation’s largest 100 metro areas, it boasts the highest concentration of advanced manufacturing jobs. The 42 percent increase in those jobs over the past five years has certainly helped its standing. 

1. Toledo, Ohio

Toledo at night

Toledo’s overall rate of job growth since 2009 has been a sluggish three percent. In advanced manufacturing, by contrast, jobs rose 43 percent over the same time period. The median pay for these jobs is almost $23 dollars an hour, much higher than the $18.44 median for all workers in the city.

Amid all the focus on preparing students to become engineers or computer programmers, it can be easy to forget hot jobs that require less than a four-year degree. 

* For the purposes of this analysis, "middle skilled advanced manufacturing jobs" include: Industrial Machinery Mechanics; Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators; Computer Numerically-Controlled Machine Tool Programmers; Machinists; Welding, Soldering, and Brazing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders; Biological Technicians; and Chemical Technicians. . We retrieved data from EMSI, an economic and employment data firm.
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