Report shows manufacturing's importance to state economy

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Report shows manufacturing’s importance to state economy

Like the rest of the nation, Nebraska has experienced a decline in the number of manufacturing jobs during the past 15 years.

Yet a new report from the University of Nebraska shows that manufacturing contributes a significant share to Nebraska’s economy, in terms of jobs and cash flow. Commissioned by the Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership and prepared by the Bureau of Business Research, the report shows that manufacturing comprises about 26 percent of the state’s economy.

Eric Thompson, director of the university’s Bureau of Business Research and the manufacturing report’s co-author, said Nebraska lost 16,600 manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2016, about a 15 percent decline. That compares to a national decline of about 29 percent.

However, adjusted for inflation, Nebraska’s state manufacturing gross domestic product grew during the same period by $4.2 billion, a 37 percent increase. U.S. manufacturing GDP grew by 19 percent during the same period.

“Manufacturing has been a successful industry in the United States between 2000 and 2015 and it’s been an even more successful industry in Nebraska during the same period,” Thompson said. “One of the reasons the industry is so successful is it has enjoyed rapid productivity growth, which is why employment declines while manufacturing real GDP rises.”

Thompson will lead free webinar at noon Aug. 26 to discuss the manufacturing report and the trends, challenges and advantages facing Nebraska manufacturers. Registration ends Aug. 24.

Other findings from the Nebraska Manufacturing Report:

  • About one in 10 Nebraska workers are employed in manufacturing, slightly above the national average of about 1 in 12. The largest portion of jobs, about 37 percent, was in food processing.

  • There were 1,795 manufacturing establishments in Nebraska as of 2014. Only 32 had more than 500 employees. Most had 10 or fewer employees.

  • Nebraska manufacturing exports more than doubled in 10 years, from about $2.5 billion in 2005 to nearly $6.5 billion in 2014.

The manufacturing report is the second of a pair recently commissioned by the group to identify the strengths and weaknesses of manufacturing in Nebraska. A previous report released earlier this year detailed findings from a survey of 200 Nebraska manufacturers.

Both reports are part of an ongoing effort to raise awareness about the partnership and the services it provides at affordable cost to Nebraska manufacturers. The partnership also recently hired a client service manager to recruit more businesses that could benefit from the partnership’s services.

“The university is an economic engine in the state and this is a way we show our support of the manufacturing industry, the second largest industry in the state,” said Curt Weller, director of the Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

Weller helped bring the partnership to the university in 2014, after it had been operated by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development for about 20 years. The $1.2 million per year program receives about half its funds from the federal government and about the third from the university. The remainder comes from service fees paid by businesses.

Weller, a professor in biological systems engineering and food science, also serves as interim director of the university’s Food Processing Center and as interim head of the Food Science and Technology Department. He said the university’s technology and food-processing expertise are valuable resources for Nebraska’s manufacturing sector.

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