A Michigan County known for its strength in the automotive sector shifted its employment efforts into high gear recently by posting the country’s largest gain in manufacturing jobs over an 18-month period.
Macomb County, just outside of Detroit, added 9,118 manufacturing jobs between the fourth quarter of 2016 and the second quarter of 2018, according to the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the highest amount in the nation, followed by Alameda County, California, with an increase of 9,049 jobs; Peoria County, Illinois, with 8,288; Elkhart County, Indiana, with 7,901; and Santa Clara County, California, with 7,900.
Two other Michigan counties placed in the top 30 in the US: No. 20 Wayne County, which added 2,359 manufacturing jobs, and No. 28 Oakland County, which gained 2,126.
“It’s inspiring to see the transformation of manufacturing in Macomb County,” said Macomb County Executive Mark A. Hackel. “A few short years ago, many people doubted the future of manufacturing in the United States. Here in Macomb, we held firm in the belief that our manufacturers would remain a key driver of economic prosperity.”
This ranking is not a fluke, says Vicky Rad, interim director of the Macomb County Planning and Economic Development Department. “It came together as a culmination of multiple industries – automotive, aerospace and defense. These three major industries are all experiencing growth now,” she says. “Advanced manufacturing is definitely at play, and we have close to 700 contractors supporting the Department of Defense.”
With Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler all operating major plants in Macomb, the automotive sector remains the county’s largest. Overall, the county’s manufacturing workforce counts 1,600 companies that employ more than 72,000 workers.
Rad says those numbers are growing steadily. Over the past five years, her department has provided direct service to more than 146 existing and incoming companies that have collectively invested more than $1.4 billion in new facilities and equipment.
From Recession to Resurgence
It’s part of Michigan’s overall strength in manufacturing. Statewide, more than 14,000 manufacturing plants help rank the state fourth in the nation for manufacturing jobs. Automotive plants in Michigan produce more than 19 percent of US auto production; and automotive factory jobs comprise about 40 percent of total manufacturing jobs in Michigan.
|1. Macomb County, MI||9,118 jobs|
|2. Alameda County, CA||9,049 jobs|
|3. Peoria County, IL||8,288 jobs|
|4. Elkhart County, IN||7,901 jobs|
|5. Santa Clara County, CA||7,900 jobs|
“We got hit really hard in the recession of 2009 and 2010,” says Rad. “I would say that 2012 was the turning point for us, and it peaked in 2017. We had over $418 million in new investment come into the county that year, and then we were right around $384 million in 2018.”
Contrast that with 2013, when the county landed about $90 million in investment, and you can begin to see the dramatic turnaround for Macomb, a county that gave us Kid Rock, Hall of Fame baseball pitcher John Smoltz, and actor Dean Cain (aka, Superman of “Lois and Clark”).
But the 201-year-old county of 871,375 people is not done yet, notes Rad. “We’ve seen two to three years of steady job growth,” she adds. “Brand new buildings were constructed. Companies expanded and decided to build new space and hire more people. And our average wages are higher than the norm and going up.”
In fact, Macomb County has seen average earnings increase about $628 per job from 2016 to 2018, going from $87,049 to $87,677 – a mark well above the national average yearly salary.
Even bad news now comes with a silver lining, says Rad. When General Motors announced in late 2018 that it would close five automotive plants in North America, leaders in Macomb County knew that many local jobs would be lost. GM confirmed that on Feb. 6 when it announced 1,300 job cuts at its Warren Technical Center.
“Our defense industry is now looking at picking up all of those 1,300 jobs,” Rad says. “We are seeing a job fair for white-collar engineering services jobs. At the moment, there are more than 1,100 job postings in the manufacturing sector in Macomb County.”
From AVs and EVs to Smart Mobility
Rad adds that “the defense sector in Macomb is looking at advanced research and engineering for the next generation combat vehicle. This is a gateway for employees in vehicle technology to transition into work for DOD. People call us a blue-collar economy, but we are the new-collar economy. Being at the heart of Motor City gives us access to a combination of skill sets that is in high demand by employers.”
The Ford Proving Grounds in Romeo will be a key player in the future of autonomous vehicle technology as well, notes Rad. With 100 miles of test track spread over 3,880 acres, the Macomb County site will be ground zero for AV and electric vehicle research.
“Plus, look at our mobility efforts as they relate to infrastructure,” she says. “We’ll be a fully connected county. Vehicles will be able to talk to a traffic signal. That’s where our world is headed, and it’s all happening in Macomb County.”
Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.
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