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L.A. County keeps rank as top U.S. manufacturing employer

March 10, 2011 |  7:00 am

Manufacturing jobs in Los Angeles County have continued to decline in recent years, as they have nationwide, yet the county retains its ranking as the leading U.S. manufacturing center, a new report says.

L.A. County had 389,300 people employed in manufacturing in 2009, ahead of traditional rival Chicago, which ranked No. 2 with 324,900 jobs in the sector, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., a business advocacy group for the local economy.

In its first update on the region’s manufacturing sector in about four years, LAEDC said total sector employment in L.A. County fell 16% from 2006 to 2009, about the same percentage decline that Chicago experienced.

Lacountyseal Still, the county’s percentage drop in the period was the fifth-largest among the nation’s top 12 manufacturing centers, the report shows. Detroit fared worst, losing about 32% of its manufacturing positions. Houston fared best, with a net gain of 0.5%.

The 2008-2009 recession slashed manufacturing jobs everywhere, but L.A. County’s losses were magnified by the housing bust, LAEDC said.

“The abrupt halt in residential construction that followed the collapse of the housing bubble and the onset of the recession decimated demand for housing-related products ranging from doors, windows and nails to carpets and furniture,” the report says.

The biggest declines in L.A. County manufacturing jobs from 2006 to 2009 were in furniture and related products (-40.9%), nonmetallic mineral products (-29.5%) and textile product mills (-25.8%).

In 2010, though the economy improved, the county probably lost about 5% of manufacturing positions, LAEDC estimated. This year, it projects employment will be flat.

Even as U.S. manufacturing overall is enjoying a boom, LAEDC noted that industry has become relentless in its drive for efficiency -- making more with fewer workers. That trend won’t stop even if sales continue to grow.

Nationwide, “many of the [manufacturing] job losses of the last decade stemmed as much from the absence of new hiring as from layoffs,” the report says.

Still, a robust manufacturing sector is a wealth generator. Among the top-paying industries in L.A. County in 2009, petroleum and coal-products workers earned an average annual wage of $101,483, followed by computer and electronic products ($90,577), transportation equipment ($82,887) and machinery ($57,354).

The report also includes a load of data on manufacturing employment in the rest of Southern California, including Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties.

-- Tom Petruno

Image: Los Angeles County seal