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Missouri Chamber consultant sees manufacturing renaissance, ongoing labor challenges

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(The Center Square) – Manufacturing in Missouri is undergoing a rebirth with a solid foundation for long-term sustainability, according to a consultant’s commentary provided by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.

Ted Abernathy, managing partner of Economic Leadership LLC and an author of the Chamber’s 15-year strategic plan ending in 2030, highlighted increases in the state’s manufacturing activity. He said global changes in geopolitics is leading companies to change from offshoring jobs to reshoring. Abernathy referenced ABB Global Pole research from June 2022 stating seven of 10 U.S. companies were bringing jobs back to North America, Mexico, Canada or the U.S.

“The change in manufacturing jobs over the last 12 years has been a real resurgence that not a lot of people were predicting,” Abernathy said. “A lot of states, including Missouri, have added more than 30,000 net new manufacturing jobs during that period of time. So we’ve seen a manufacturing renaissance that we think is just going to get stronger as we go forward.”

The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center released its June jobs report and revealed an increase of 9,800 manufacturing jobs last month compared to June 2022. However, manufacturing jobs decreased by 600 from May.

“What we’re seeing is momentum building in the manufacturing sector in the state and advanced industry jobs, which includes high tech manufacturing but also high tech service jobs,” Abernathy said.

Missouri’s unemployment increased by one-tenth of a percentage point in June, rising from 2.5% in May to 2.6%, and half a percentage point from the June 2022 rate of 2.1%. The national unemployment rate was 3.6% in June. Missouri’s unemployment rate has been at or below the national rate for more than eight years.

The state’s labor force participation rate increased a percentage point from 62.6% in May to 63.6% in June. Abernathy said the rebound in the labor force participation rate after the pandemic will lead to continued tightness in the labor market.

“The labor force participation rate, which was an issue a year or two ago for prime-age workers (ages) 25 to 54, is actually now at record highs,” Abernathy said. “We still have less young people and we’d like to get the more people 16 to 24 back in the labor force. But for the prime working age, we’re just about as high as we’ve ever been. So labor looks like it’s going to continue to be an issue for quite a bit of time to come.”

Abernathy said the state and national economy have “renormalized” after the pandemic. He also said Missouri should be aware of federal government spending in certain sectors of the economy.

“We’ve initiated a national industrial policy and that’s a debatable thing,” Abernathy said. “There are people who believe it’s great and people who believe it’s not. But we’re investing in key industries in America now. Whether that’s in the chips that we were looking for during the pandemic and couldn’t find for medical devices or energy… a lot of investments are being made and it’s up to Missouri to take advantage of where the opportunities are.”

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