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Regional Report: Midwest Economy Buffeted by the Winds of Change

There have been ups and downs in the world of Midwest auto manufacturing, but the region has also shown growth in the technology, agribusiness, and logistics/distribution sectors.

Directory 2017
The Midwest is often referred to as the Rust Belt, a nod to its manufacturing heritage that has for quite some time been in decline. That is, of course, a vast oversimplification, and there's plenty of health in the Midwest economy.

Consider the Midwest Economy Index from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The most recent stats, covering October 2016, show an uptick that indicates regional growth higher than what national economic figures suggest it would be. As it happens, much of the boost in the relative Midwest Economy Index has to do with manufacturing.

Indeed, manufacturing-intensive Indiana had an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent (September 2016). It was even lower in Minnesota, at 4.0 percent, and in Iowa (4.2 percent) and Wisconsin (4.1 percent). Another manufacturing stalwart, Michigan, recorded a jobless rate of 4.6 percent, while Ohio's came in at 4.8 percent that month. Among Midwest states, only two fared worse than the September national average of 5 percent: Illinois at 5.5 percent and Missouri at 5.2 percent.
SlideshowMidwest Region Demographics and Industries Midwest Region Top Industry Clusters
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Midwest Region Demographics and Industries

  • Illinois: Principal Manufacturing Industries

    Illinois: Principal Manufacturing Industries Source: Emsi 2016.4 (via BLS, Census and BEA)
  • Indiana: Principal Manufacturing Industries

    Indiana: Principal Manufacturing Industries Source: Emsi 2016.4 (via BLS, Census and BEA)
  • Iowa: Principal Manufacturing Industries

    Iowa: Principal Manufacturing Industries Source: Emsi 2016.4 (via BLS, Census and BEA)
  • Michigan: Principal Manufacturing Industries

    Michigan: Principal Manufacturing Industries Source: Emsi 2016.4 (via BLS, Census and BEA)
  • Minnesota: Principal Manufacturing Industries

    Minnesota: Principal Manufacturing Industries Source: Emsi 2016.4 (via BLS, Census and BEA)
  • Missouri: Principal Manufacturing Industries

    Missouri: Principal Manufacturing Industries Source: Emsi 2016.4 (via BLS, Census and BEA)
  • Ohio: Principal Manufacturing Industries

    Ohio: Principal Manufacturing Industries Source: Emsi 2016.4 (via BLS, Census and BEA)
  • Wisconsin: Principal Manufacturing Industries

    Wisconsin: Principal Manufacturing Industries Source: Emsi 2016.4 (via BLS, Census and BEA)
  • Midwest Region: 2016 Educational Attainment

    Midwest Region: 2016 Educational Attainment Source: Emsi and U.S. Census Bureau's decennial census/Current Population Statisics
  • Midwest Region: Demographics

    Midwest Region: Demographics Population - Source: Emsi and Census, Total Labor Force - Source: BLS (Local Area Unemployment Statistics), Jobs - Source: Emsi 2016.4, Total Unemployed - Source: BLS (Local Area Unemployment Statistics)
  • Midwest Region: Top Industry Clusters

    Midwest Top Indistry Clusters Source: Emsi Developer (via BLS, Census, BEA and Emsi's Input-Output Model)
Demographic Analysis Provided by Emsi. Emsi is a labor market and economic analytics firm based in Moscow, Idaho. It supplies data via software and consulting to hundreds of economic development organizations, workforce agencies, educational institutions, and companies in the US, UK, and Canada. For more, visit economicmodeling.com.
Automotive's Ups and Downs
Truth is, there's a whole lot of up and down in the world of Midwest manufacturing. Consider one November 2016 announcement from General Motors, indicating that more than 2,000 third-shift workers at a pair of assembly plants in Michigan and Ohio would be laid off indefinitely in January. The move comes as vehicle buyers are moving away from cars and toward trucks and SUVs. At the same time, the company said it would be investing nearly a billion dollars at component plants in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana to gear up for different vehicles, though no new jobs would result.

Even as GM is idling some workers, and auto industry observers wonder if production is starting to outstrip demand, there are still some bright spots in the Midwest's auto capital, Michigan. For example, a major supplier of complex structural stampings and assemblies, Gestamp, is expanding multiple Michigan facilities and adding nearly 300 jobs. On the other hand, Fiat Chrysler supplier Faurecia North America is shutting down a pair of Detroit plants and laying off 348 people, reflecting the cancellation of two models it had been supplying (the Chrysler 2000 and the Dodge Dart).

Meanwhile in Illinois, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced that its Belvidere Assembly Plant would take in a $350 million investment to move Jeep Cherokee production from Ohio. For Illinois, it's a potential 2017 manufacturing gain of 300 jobs. That may sound like bad news for Ohio, but not necessarily — the Toledo plant that's losing the Cherokee will pick up the Wrangler through a $700 million investment that promises to add 700 jobs there. Again, where the news gets murkier is in the supplier realm. Some companies that had supplied Belvidere in the past were ending 2016 with layoffs, because it was not yet clear if they would pick up contracts for Cherokee production. A mix of good news and bad news, yet again, but not a complete surprise as the auto industry that was red-hot in 2015 comes back down to earth.

And then there was the up and down related to what has turned out to be the most talked-about manufacturing job shift announced in 2016: Carrier's plans to shift more than a thousand Indiana jobs to Mexico. The bad news provided plenty of material for Donald Trump on the presidential campaign trail, but after he and vice president-elect Mike Pence won the election, the company agreed to save about 800 of the lost jobs. That development, in turn, brightened the spotlight on another Indianapolis-to-Mexico move, this one involving Wisconsin-based Rexnord Corp. Some 300 jobs were in limbo there, and though there was some suggestion that the incoming administration might target the deal for another intervention, it wasn't clear if that story was going to have a happy ending.

Midwest States Recent Industry Announcements

Companies that have announced new and/or expanded facilities in the Midwest region.
  1. Gestamp

    Chelsea, MI

    A major supplier of complex structural stampings and assemblies, Gestamp, is expanding multiple Michigan facilities and adding nearly 300 jobs.

  2. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

    Belvidere, IL

    Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced that its Belvidere (IL) Assembly Plant would take in a $350 million investment and gain 300 jobs to move Jeep Cherokee production from Ohio.

  3. Fiat Chrysler

    Toledo, OH

    The Toledo plant that's losing the Cherokee will pick up the Wrangler through a $700 million investment that promises to add 700 jobs.

  4. Carrier

    Indianapolis, IN

    Carrier is retaining 800 of the 1,000 Indiana jobs that it had planned to move to Mexico.

  5. Vetter

    Des Plaines, IL

    Illinois celebrated plans by German pharmaceutical service provider Vetter to build a $320 million production and distribution facility in Des Plaines that's to create at least 300 jobs.

  6. CertainTeed Corp.

    Jonesburg, MO

    CertainTeed Corp., a major manufacturer of building products, recently wrapped up a three-year, $100 million manufacturing and distribution center expansion in Jonesburg, Missouri.

  7. Biomeric

    Brooklyn Park, MN

    Contract medical device manufacturer Biomerics has plans to create 120 high-paying jobs in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.

  8. Catalent Pharma Solutions

    Madison, WI

    Catalent Pharma Solutions is expanding its operations in Madison, Wisconsin, with the addition of manufacturing, office, and lab space expected to create more than 100 new jobs.

  9. Salesforce Tower

    Indianapolis, IN

    In Indianapolis, the state's tallest building is slated to be renamed Salesforce Tower, in honor of the cloud software behemoth that is planning $40 million in investments and more than 800 new hires over the next five years.

  10. Virgin Mobile USA

    Kansas City, MO

    Downtown Kansas City, Missouri, will be the site of the Virgin Mobile USA headquarters.

  11. Remedy Analytics

    Milwaukee, WI

    In the Milwaukee area, Remedy Analytics, which creates technology that helps self-insured employers cut their prescription benefit costs, is expanding and more than doubling its workforce.

  12. Microbiologics Inc.

    St Cloud, MN

    In the Minnesota community of St. Cloud, Microbiologics Inc. is expanding its high-tech operation that supplies microorganisms and lab-testing products, creating 35 new jobs.

  13. Moon Ridge Foods

    Pleasant Hope, MO

    A planned $54 million investment is slated to create 160 jobs at Moon Ridge Foods in Pleasant Hope, Missouri.

  14. ZFS Ithaca

    Ithaca, MI

    In Michigan, ZFS Ithaca recently announced a 74-job soybean-processing plant fueled by a $123 million investment.

  15. Richelieu Foods

    Wheeling, IL

    About 100 Illinois jobs are tied to the new Richelieu Foods private-label manufacturing facility in Wheeling.

  16. Krone North America

    Shelbyville, IN

    Shelbyville, Indiana, successfully attracted the headquarters of Krone North America, an agricultural equipment company, as well as a new distribution center, showroom, and training facility, creating about 100 jobs.

  17. CVS Pharmacy

    Kansas City, MO

    CVS Pharmacy will build a 762,000-square-foot distribution center at the Skyport Industrial Park in Kansas City, Mo., creating 360 jobs and supporting the fulfillment needs of the retail chain's 370 Midwest stores.

  18. Knight Transportation

    Plainfield, IN

    Strong transportation connections helped persuade Knight Transportation to open a regional operations service center in Plainfield, Indiana, with the promise of more than 400 jobs within five years.

Growth in Other Sectors
Though much of the manufacturing sector in the Midwest is fueled by transportation, that's far from the only manufacturing game in town. Illinois, for example, celebrated $320 million plans by German pharmaceutical service provider Vetter to build a production and distribution facility in Des Plaines. That's worth at least 300 jobs. CertainTeed Corp., a major manufacturer of building products, recently wrapped up a three-year, $100 million manufacturing and distribution center expansion in the Missouri community of Jonesburg. In Minnesota, contract medical device manufacturer Biomerics has plans to create 120 high-paying jobs in Brooklyn Park. And in Wisconsin, Catalent Pharma Solutions is expanding its operations in Madison, an addition of manufacturing, office, and lab space expected to create more than 100 new jobs.

As the region sorts through the highs and lows of manufacturing, it continues to push ahead in such sectors as technology. Chicago, for example, moved onto the list of the nation's top 10 technology cities, compiled by CBRE. Chicago was ninth in job growth, adding more than 10,000 tech jobs between 2013 and 2015.

In Indianapolis, meanwhile, the state's tallest building is slated to be renamed Salesforce Tower, in honor of the cloud software behemoth that is planning $40 million in investments and more than 800 new hires over the next five years or so. Downtown Kansas City, Missouri, will be the site of the Virgin Mobile USA headquarters.

In the Milwaukee area, Remedy Analytics creates technology that helps self-insured employers cut their prescription benefit costs — it's expanding and more than doubling its workforce. And in the Minnesota community of St. Cloud, Microbiologics Inc. is expanding its high-tech operation that supplies microorganisms and lab-testing products, creating 35 new jobs.

The Midwest's agricultural heritage sparks ongoing agribusiness and food processing activity. In Missouri, for example, a planned $54 million investment is slated to create 160 jobs at Moon Ridge Foods in Pleasant Hope. It's a farm-to-plate pork processing operation focused on humane approaches and artisan food preparation. In Michigan, ZFS Ithaca recently announced a 74-job plant fueled by a $123 million investment. It'll process soybeans, Michigan's top agricultural export. About 100 Illinois jobs are tied to the new Richelieu Foods private-label manufacturing facility in Wheeling. Shelbyville, Indiana, successfully attracted the headquarters of Krone North America, an agricultural equipment company that has been based in Tennessee. The development will also include a new distribution center, showroom, and training facility, and will create about 100 jobs.

Transportation Assets
Plenty of goods traverse the Midwest, thanks to a mix of location and strong transportation assets. Chicago, Minneapolis, and Kansas City are major freight centers. In December 2016, CVS Pharmacy announced it would build a 762,000-square-foot distribution center at the Skyport Industrial Park in Kansas City, Mo., creating 360 jobs and supporting the fulfillment needs of the retail chain's 370 Midwest stores.

And the Iowa community of Cedar Rapids hopes to tap into the Midwest's transportation connections with a planned new intermodal transportation facility. A $26 million federal grant for the project was announced in mid-2016. Indiana, meanwhile, has long benefited from the logistics operations attracted by strong highway and air connections in the central part of the state, water to the south, and both rail and water to the north. Such factors helped persuade Knight Transportation to open a regional operations service center in Plainfield, with the promise of more than 400 jobs within five years.
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