Creating useful products still key to U.S. economy

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Agriculture is Nebraska’s major industry, and it’s a profound activity, once someone gives it some thought.

Using things as simple as light, water, soil, seed and fertilizer, farmers create valuable products like corn, soybeans and wheat in unbelievable quantities.

The U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t lump agriculture with manufacturing, although perhaps it should since both activities turn raw materials into marketable commodities.

That doesn’t mean our state and our community don’t hold their own when it comes to traditional manufacturing, however, an activity celebrated this week and culminating with the seventh annual Manufacturing Day on Friday, Oct. 5.

Drive east along McCook’s South Street, and you’ll first pass Parker Hannifin, a major employer and hose manufacturer. Farther along, you’ll reach the modern Valmont plant, manufacturing irrigation systems in support of agriculture around the world.

Turn left, and you’ll soon be crossing the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks, carrying products destined for everywhere in America and around the world.

It’s true that manufacturing isn’t what it once was in the United States, much of it having moved overseas to Asia, but it’s still the fifth largest employer in America, behind Healthcare and social assistance, accommodation and food services, administrative and support and waste management and remediation services.

You’ll make nearly twice as much in management, but the average annual payroll for a manufacturing job is $57,766, above the average annual payroll for all sectors of $50,769, according to the Census Bureau.

About 6 percent of Nebraska jobs are in traditional manufacturing.

Nationwide, some 1.4 million workers are involved manufacturing transportation equipment, nearly that many in food, 1.33 million in fabricated metal products, .99 million in machinery and .77 million in computer and electronic product manufacturing.

Manufacturing is key to U.S. exports, nearly six out of 10 dollars coming from manufacturers.

Manufacturing has changed radically over the past few decades, technology causing the number of people required to plummet while the productivity of each worker climbs.

While cheap labor has drawn American manufacturing jobs to other countries, we’ve kept our edge through innovation, a process that must continue.

Measuring America: Manufacturing in America[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

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