Massachusetts Experts Expect Job Losses in Manufacturing Sector to Level Off, Possibly Reverse

7/15/08

For more than 60 years, the number of jobs in manufacturing has been on the decline in Massachusetts. But that trend is finally at an end, say the authors of a new report, Staying Power: The Future of Manufacturing in Massachusetts.

The large employment losses are over because most of the firms that couldn’t survive in the new globalized economy have already shut down or left the state. “What’s left consists of highly sophisticated producers that contribute mightily to state output and employment, and that, for the most part, are able to survive in this new economic environment,” according to the report, which was prepared by Northeastern University’s Center for Urban and Regional Policy and was presented today at a public forum at the Boston Foundation.

In fact, most of the employers reckon that they will increase their workforce during the coming years, according to a survey of more than 700 Massachusetts manufacturing firms that’s included in the report. More than 60 percent of the firms expected to have more workers five years from now, while just 12 percent expected their employee base to shrink during the same period.

Still, manufacturing isn’t what it used to be in Massachusetts. Just after WorldWar II, four out of 10 workers in the Commonwealth were employed by manufacturing firms, producing a range of goods “from textile fabrics to aircraft engine parts,” according to the report. Today, barely 10 percent of the state’s jobs are in manufacturing.

The really big dip started in the mid-1980s. Up till then, more than 600,000 people worked in industry, a number that has now dropped to 300,000. But there are big differences between sectors, say the report’s authors, with relatively small job losses occurring in high-tech sectors like electronics and computer hardware.

Of course, the future of manufacturing is not just about jobs, but about making money by producing goods. This in turn means keeping productivity high, to compete with low-cost competitors in other parts of the world. Evidently, that’s something people are good at around here. During the period from 1997 to 2006, manufacturing productivity grew twice as fast in Massachusetts as in the nation as a whole. During the period the state’s output “increased by an extraordinary 61 per cent to nearly $40 billion,” the report says.

Erik Mellgren is a Swedish journalist who worked for Xconomy Boston in 2008 as part of the Stanford Innovation Journalism Fellowship program. His real job is with Ny Teknik, a leading technology and innovation magazine in Sweden, but he loved seeing the Red Sox at Fenway. Follow @

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  • http://737throttle.com Daniel Bryant

    The aircraft parts business could do with a bit of a boost Massachusetts would be the place to do it, it has a great past in aviation and is geographically the right place