Take a look at our deep dive into the U.S. cities where manufacturing is booming.
Manufacturing has served an important role in the United States economy, and the industry continues to play a critical role today. From industrial products to consumer goods, and from automobiles to aircraft, the U.S. manufacturing sector is diverse and continues to develop and evolve. In this deep dive into manufacturing-centric areas in the U.S., we examined the question: where are the top cities in the United States where manufacturing is thriving?
AdvisorSmith conducted a study on 318 U.S. cities to determine the top cities where U.S. manufacturing is thriving. We based our rankings on four key economic factors: manufacturing output growth rate, manufacturing output per capita, manufacturing location quotient, and manufacturing employment growth rate.
In 2018, there were 12.8 million manufacturing jobs in the United States, up from 12.3 million in 2014. Manufacturing jobs accounted for 8.2% of total employment, and manufacturing output was $2.3 trillion in 2018. Manufacturing accounted for approximately 11% of GDP. Nationwide, we found that manufacturing output per capita was approximately $7,032, while the manufacturing output growth rate on a compounded annual growth rate basis was 2.5% during the study period. Manufacturing employment grew by a compounded annual growth rate of 0.8% during the study period.
Geographically, the Midwest and South accounted for 39 out of the top 50 cities in the study while the Northeast only had 3 cities. Regional patterns emerged with the Midwestern cities primarily focused on automotive, agricultural, and raw materials manufacturing while the South maintained strong oil and gas, chemical, and furniture industries.
Top Cities Where Manufacturing is Thriving by City Size
The majority of the top cities for manufacturing in our study—43 in the top 50, and 9 in the top 10—were small and midsize cities. Small cities with a powerful hold on significant manufacturing industries dominated our list, and Indiana, with 3 out of the top 4 spots, had a particularly strong showing at the top of our ranking.
We segmented cities by metropolitan statistical area population, with small (<150,000 population), midsize (population between 150,000 and 500,000), and large (over 500,000 population) cities. Below are the top 10 small, midsize, and large cities where manufacturing is booming.
Top Cities Where Manufacturing is Thriving
1. Elkhart, IN
Elkhart, Indiana, was the top manufacturing city in our study and the only midsize city in the top five. Elkhart is a city in northern Indiana just fifteen miles east of South Bend, the economic and cultural center of Northern Indiana. Elkhart and the surrounding cities in Elkhart County are referred to as the “RV capital of the world.” 52% of all RVs produced in the United States are produced in Elkhart County.
In 2018, the city produced 507% more jobs for manufacturing, on a per-capita basis, than the average U.S. city and had a manufacturing output of $6.68 billion. During the study period, manufacturing output grew by a compounded annual growth rate of 6.4%, while manufacturing employment grew by 4.1%. Manufacturing output per capita in Elkhart was $32,489 at the end of the study period.
2. Columbus, IN
Columbus is a small city in central Indiana located approximately 40 miles south of the state capital, Indianapolis. Columbus is one of the biggest manufacturing cities in the nation, as 38% of the people who work in Columbus work in the manufacturing industry. Columbus is particularly well known as a producer of automotive engines, and this is, in no small part, due to the city serving as the headquarters of Cummins, a Fortune 500 corporation that designs, manufactures, and distributes engines. Columbus is also home to Toyota Material Handling, U.S.A., Inc., which is the world’s largest manufacturer of forklifts.
Columbus, Indiana had manufacturing output of $4.0 billion in 2018, which was $48,799 per capita. The city has 350% more manufacturing jobs than the national average on a per-capita basis, and had a manufacturing output growth rate of 3.6% during the study period. Manufacturing employment also grew 1.5% over the same period.
3. Rocky Mount, NC
Rocky Mount is a small city in northeastern North Carolina that was originally known for its textiles and agriculture industries. Over the years, it evolved into a manufacturing and pharmaceutical powerhouse, helped in part by its distribution-friendly location at a junction for major highways and railways. The area is home to several major manufacturing companies, including Cummins, an engine-producing company and one of the area’s largest employers, and Corning Inc., a specialty glass manufacturer. Rocky Mount continues to be an attractive area for advanced manufacturing jobs and is one of the largest producers of medical devices and diesel engines in the nation.
The manufacturing output of Rocky Mount was $6.2 billion in 2018, which was $42,270 on a per-capita basis. Manufacturing output grew by 11.8% annualized over the study period. The city also has 108% more manufacturing jobs than the national average.
4. Kokomo, IN
Kokomo is a small city in central Indiana that is particularly renowned for its automotive and manufacturing industries. The city was historically successful due to the presence of major automotive companies like Chrysler, Delphi, and General Motors, but Kokomo was severely impacted by the financial crisis in 2008 and the automotive industry crisis that followed. In the ensuing economic recovery, the auto industry also experienced a recovery, which benefited Kokomo’s manufacturing sector. Today, Kokomo is one of the biggest producers of automotive transmissions parts in the nation.
Kokomo’s manufacturing output was $3.7 billion in 2018, which was production of $44,724 per capita. The city has 245% more manufacturing jobs than the national average, and manufacturing output grew 2.9% annualized over the study period.
5. Sheboygan, WI
Sheboygan is a small city in eastern Wisconsin that was once an active shipping port due to its location along Lake Michigan at the head of the Sheboygan River. Business in the area once revolved around cooperage, or the making of barrels and casks, in the 19th century, but it is now a major industrial center that produces various manufacturing products including automotive parts, metal products, furniture, plastics, and orthodontic goods. Kohler Co., which manufactures enameled iron and metal sanitary ware, is the largest employer in the area with over 5,000 employees, and other large manufacturing employers include Rockline Industries, Bemis Manufacturing Company, and Nemak.
Sheboygan’s manufacturing output in 2018 was $3.1 billion, for a per-capita output of $26,882. The city’s manufacturing output growth rate was 4.3% annualized over the study period, while manufacturing employment grew 1.1%. Sheboygan has 317% more manufacturing jobs per capita than the national average.
Top 50 Cities With Strong Manufacturing Economies
In this study, we ranked the top 50 cities with the strongest manufacturing economies, based upon four primary factors: the growth rate of manufacturing output, manufacturing output per capita, the location quotient for manufacturing workers, and the growth rate in manufacturing jobs. We assigned a score of 0-100 to each city based on these factors, with higher scores being ranked more highly.
|Rank||City||City Size||2018 Manufacturing Output (in thousands)||Manufacturing Output Growth Rate 2014-2018 (CAGR)||2018 Manufacturing Output Per Capita||Manufacturing Employment Location Quotient||Manufacturing Employment Growth Rate 2014-2018 (CAGR)||Total Score|
|3||Rocky Mount, NC||Small||$6,172,392||11.8%||$42,270.58||2.1||-1.0%||61.4|
|6||San Jose, CA||Large||$76,196,553||5.8%||$38,115.29||1.8||1.3%||52.7|
|8||Lake Charles, LA||Midsize||$7,088,832||7.4%||$33,743.49||1.1||1.8%||50.1|
|9||Mount Vernon, WA||Small||$2,511,497||12.6%||$19,589.54||1.4||0.7%||50.0|
|20||Grand Rapids, MI||Large||$14,897,819||3.8%||$13,930.94||2.5||2.7%||41.9|
|24||Palm Bay, FL||Large||$4,473,065||6.4%||$7,494.47||1.4||5.1%||40.1|
|35||Fond du Lac, WI||Small||$1,400,665||1.7%||$13,589.98||2.8||0.5%||37.6|
|44||Battle Creek, MI||Small||$1,473,904||2.3%||$10,959.45||2.5||1.0%||36.2|
|46||Bay City, MI||Small||$679,654||5.6%||$6,539.98||1.5||2.4%||36.1|
Manufacturing Output Growth Rate 2014-2018 (CAGR)
Our study measured the growth rate of manufacturing output over a five-year period, from 2014-2018 on a compound annual growth rate percentage basis. This metric shows the change in manufacturing output for a given city. Midland, Texas, a center of shale oil production, led the country in percentage growth rate on this measure.
|Rank||City||Manufacturing Output Growth Rate 2014-2018 (CAGR)|
|2||Mount Vernon, WA||12.6%|
|3||Rocky Mount, NC||11.8%|
|9||Lake Havasu City, AZ||8.1%|
|12||San Antonio, TX||7.8%|
|13||Lake Charles, LA||7.4%|
Manufacturing Output Per Capita – 2018
Manufacturing output per capita measures the dollar value of the manufactured goods produced by a city divided by the city’s population. It provides a measure of the manufacturing production per city resident. The highest ranking city on this metric was Columbus, Indiana, which also placed #2 overall.
|Rank||City||2018 Manufacturing Output Per Capita|
|3||Rocky Mount, NC||$42,271|
|5||San Jose, CA||$38,115|
|7||Lake Charles, LA||$33,743|
|13||Mount Vernon, WA||$19,590|
|20||Baton Rouge, LA||$16,958|
Manufacturing Location Quotient – 2018
The location quotient for manufacturing jobs measures the proportion of manufacturing jobs to total jobs in a city compared with the national average. The higher the location quotient, the more likely it is that a randomly selected job will be a manufacturing job. Elkhart, Indiana, which was also the #1 place where manufacturing is thriving in the U.S., had the highest concentration of manufacturing jobs on a per-capita basis.
|Rank||City||2018 Manufacturing Location Quotient|
|9||Fond du Lac, WI||2.8|
|19||Grand Rapids, MI||2.5|
|20||Battle Creek, MI||2.5|
Manufacturing Employment Growth Rate 2014-2018 (CAGR)
In the table below, we list the top cities where manufacturing jobs have grown the most on a compound annual growth rate percentage basis between 2014 and 2018. The #1 city, Reno, Nevada, is home to the Tesla Gigafactory 1, which accounted for substantial job growth in the city during the past five years.
|Rank||City||Manufacturing Employment Growth Rate 2014-2018 (CAGR)|
|4||Palm Bay, FL||5.1%|
|9||Cape Coral, FL||4.7%|
|12||St. George, UT||4.0%|
|14||Santa Cruz, CA||3.6%|
|15||Fort Collins, CO||3.5%|
|18||Boise City, ID||3.4%|
Our study considered four primary factors to determine the top cities where manufacturing is thriving in the U.S. The factors included the growth rate of manufacturing output based on the compounded annual growth rate between 2014-2018, the manufacturing output per capita in 2018, the employment location quotient of the manufacturing sector, and the compound annual growth rate of manufacturing jobs between 2014-2018.
Data was compared at the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) level for 318 US cities. Each city was assigned a score from 0 to 100 for each of the four factors based upon its relative rank on the factors. The four scores for each city were averaged to create a composite score, and the 318 cities were ranked based upon the composite score.
To determine the growth rate of manufacturing output for each MSA, we used data from the December 2019 release of the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis Local Area Gross Domestic Product dataset. We calculated the compound annual growth rate between 2014 through 2018. For this dataset, data for specified cities and years was withheld to avoid the disclosure of confidential information. Where possible, we interpolated data in order to estimate the manufacturing output for cities and years where the data was withheld. MSAs in which data could not be successfully interpolated were excluded from the study.
The manufacturing output per capita was calculated based on manufacturing output for each MSA in 2018 from the Local Area Gross Domestic Product, divided by each MSA’s population, which was provided by data from the U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates Program.
In order to calculate the manufacturing employment location quotient for this study, we calculated the percentage of manufacturing jobs divided by total jobs in the United States, which was 8.2% at the end of 2018. We then calculated this same percentage for each MSA, using data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics and Current Population Survey. To calculate the location quotient, we took a ratio of each city’s percentage divided by the national percentage.
To measure the growth rate in manufacturing employment across the cities, we compared the level of manufacturing employment at December 2014 to the level at December 2018, calculating the compound annual growth rate using non-seasonally adjusted numbers. This data was provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics.
 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis Local Area Gross Domestic Product
 U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates Program
 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics
 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey