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The State of Wisconsin Manufacturing


May 2019 — The following analysis explores the status of manufacturing in Wisconsin by examining long term trends and benchmarking against comparable states in the Midwest region and the U.S. more generally.

Key Findings:

  • Despite fluctuations, the recent number of manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin is close to the level in 1970 at 500,000. As a share of total employment, however, manufacturing employment has fallen from 28% in 1970 to 14% in 2015.
  • Most manufacturing sectors in Wisconsin, including those that employ the most people, have declined in employment since 2000.
  • Because manufacturing is declining more slowly in Wisconsin than in the rest of the country, Wisconsin now produces a larger share of national  manufacturing product. This increasing spatial concentration of manufacturing in the state creates both potential opportunities and vulnerabilities due to future fluctuations in the industry.
  • Over time, productivity and employment in manufacturing have diverged such that the sector is able to continue producing more and more but with fewer workers. Yet, in Wisconsin, the productivity gains have been modest compared to other states and the nation. While productivity and employment trends suggest that manufacturing is a critical component to sustaining the Wisconsin economy, its current contributions to economic growth are somewhat modest.
  • The manufacturing industry has a large share and number of employees over the age of 55. Finding the means to replace these workers as they enter retirement or scale back capacity may be one of the biggest challenges facing the industry over the next decade.
  • Based on one measure of susceptibility, Wisconsin’s manufacturing sector has a large number of occupations with a high probability of automation and computerization. Automation within the sector could help solve some of the labor demand issues facing the industry but could also displace many  workers and reshape the skills needed by manufacturing firms.

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