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March 9, 2013

Manufacturing industry making a comeback

After decades of decline, American manufacturing is on the upswing, thanks largely to higher oil prices and the natural gas boom that makes it cheaper to fuel a factory in the U.S. New technologies also are contributing to the resurgence.

Ohio, which lost 149,000 manufacturing jobs during the recession, has created 49,000 manufacturing jobs in the past three years, including 2,300 in advanced manufacturing in the last year, according to the latest figures from the Ohio Development Services Agency.

Michigan lost 146,000 manufacturing jobs between December 2007 and December 2009, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. But in the past three years the state has added more than 68,000 manufacturing jobs, the largest increase of any state. While it’s hard to quantify precisely how many are in advanced manufacturing, “most of the increase is in the auto industry, and that is definitely an advanced manufacturing industry,” said Robert C. Sherer of the Michigan Workforce Development Agency.

Nationwide, the recession eliminated 2 million manufacturing jobs. In fact, manufacturing and construction were the hardest-hit sectors, with the worst percentage declines of the post-WWII era. But manufacturers have created half a million U.S. jobs since 2009.

To add momentum, President Barack Obama wants to create a national network of “manufacturing innovation institutes” to help companies, particularly small manufacturers, capitalize on cutting-edge technologies. The 3-D printing lab in Youngstown, Ohio, highlighted by the president in his State of the Union address is the kind of venture he has in mind.

The Youngstown project beat out 11 other competitors to secure what will be a total of $45 million in federal money, becoming the country’s first such institute. The winning consortium, which includes manufacturing firms, universities, community colleges and nonprofit organizations, will put up an additional $40 million.

Ultimately the administration would like to create 15 manufacturing institutes, though Congress has to approve the $1 billion needed to pay for that many. In the meantime, the administration will use money already in the budget to create another three projects this year.

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