The Thanksgiving holiday is my favorite of the year. We get to focus on giving thanks for God’s good gifts to us, and to all those who help us in our lives; we get to feast with family and friends; and we get to feel the need to go to the gym. We should do all of these things more often!
I spent my holiday in Rockford, Illinois, the home of my wonderful parents-in-law. For the uninitiated, Rockford is home to about 150,000 (2000 census) good and hardworking folks. (The metropolitan statistical area is somewhat larger – about 360 thousand, including Boone, Ogle, and Winnebago counties.) Lots of their ancestors immigrated from Sweden, which explains the name of their largest hospital (Swedish American) and my favorite restaurant, the Stockholm Inn. (I had Swedish pancakes and lingonberries twice this week –mmm.) If you saw the movie “A League of Their Own”, you may remember that the Rockford Peaches were from this town, too.
Rockford is also the home of significant manufacturing industry, including tool and die making, machine parts, and fasteners. For the carpenters and craftsmen among us, Estwing hammers are also made in Rockford. (My father-in-law spent his career helping to make those products, ending as treasurer of that company. Fortunately for me, he still shares his tools.) Thus, this is a place where people still make things that are useful and sell them here and abroad.
As in other locales, the total manufacturing jobs in Rockford have declined over the past ten years. According to the BLS, the total number of manufacturing jobs in Rockford has declined from about 46,500 in 1996 to a low of 30,500 in October 2005. That is a substantial decline by anyone’s standards. However, total nonfarm employment has remained remarkably stable in this region, declining only slightly from about 160,000 jobs in 1996 to about 158,000 in 2006. Thus, some other jobs were added to match the decline in manufacturing jobs in this economy.
Notably, in the past year, manufacturing job growth has rebounded, reaching 33,500 (estimate) for October 2006, an increase of nearly 10 percent. (For data, see http://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.il_rockford_msa.htm ) The front page of the Rockford Register Star for Thanksgiving reported that manufacturers were having a hard time finding appropriately skilled workers for their operations. As a result, they were recruiting workers from outside the area. The unemployment rate in Rockford, as of October 2006 was 4.7 percent – full employment.
As workers transitioned to other positions, shortages in skilled trades are thus developing while the manufacturing sector of the economy is adding positions. Those who think manufacturing is out in this country, think again. There are admittedly fewer jobs in manufacturing, but there are still opportunities for those with the proper skill set. Moreover, it should be noted that the decline in manufacturing jobs has not produced a mass exodus from industrial cities – their economies have adapted and changed with the times. Keep this in mind as you hear more handwringing over the manufacturing sector in the next political cycle. We should all be thankful that our industries and workers are a good bit more resilient, adaptable, and flexible than our politicians may think.
I hope you all had a blessed Thanksgiving Holiday.