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Oregon's Chemical Manufacturing Industry Changes to Meet Demand
by Brian Rooney
Published May-20-2013

Oregon's chemical manufacturing industry reflects the state in two important ways. First, many of its products are based on forest products or the state's varied agriculture. Second, true to Oregon's reputation for a clean environment and healthy lifestyles, organic and natural products are a growing segment of the market. While employment losses have occurred in the traditional wood-related chemical products, the industry has shifted over time to meet demand with new environmentally conscious products.

Employment Trends
Employment numbers in chemical manufacturing declined over the past 11 years, but not as much as other manufacturing. Since 2001, chemical manufacturing employment dropped from 4,060 to 3,575, a loss of 12 percent (Graph 1). The drop is relatively small compared with the 21-percent decline in the entire manufacturing sector over the same time period.

For the three years before the Great Recession, chemical manufacturing employment was rising. Then, like most industries in Oregon, it had a large drop from 2008 through 2010. Since the recession, chemical manufacturing has slowly rebounded, adding back 75 jobs in two years.

Graph 1
Oregon chemical manufacturing employment annual average
Product Mix Changes to Meet Demand
One reason chemical manufacturing has been relatively stable compared with other manufacturing is that it is a diverse industry that changes over time to meet demand. In the past, products related to natural resources, especially wood, were more prevalent. Over time, employment losses in wood-related chemical products have been replaced by the production of other products.

As Table 1 shows, two sub-categories that have experienced large losses are resin and synthetic rubber manufacturing and adhesive manufacturing. Although there is some variation, many companies in the resin and adhesive manufacturing industries are related to wood products manufacturing and, more specifically, plywood and particle board manufacturing. Resins are generally used to coat and bind plywood and adhesives are used for binding both plywood and particle board. These products are also related to wood products in another way. Formaldehyde is often used as an ingredient, and formaldehyde is derived from methanol (wood alcohol). Some of the employment decline is related to the overall decline in wood products manufacturing. Another issue contributing to the decline is that formaldehyde, used in both resins and adhesives, is emitted as a gas over time and has been linked to health problems like eye and throat irritation, asthma, and cancer in laboratory animals. As a result, the federal government has set limits on formaldehyde content.

All other chemical preparation manufacturing is another sub-category with large losses (-207). It is a very diverse industry and has had a lot of companies come and go over time. However, some of the loss here can be attributed to changes from print media to electronic media.

Table 1 also shows that some sub-categories of chemical manufacturing are growing. Other basic organic chemicals (+112), fertilizer (+112), and pharmaceutical and medicines (+111) are three sub-categories that have helped to make up for losses elsewhere.

The other basic organic chemicals industry (organic in this case refers to chemicals whose molecules contain carbon), is a broad category that includes products from charcoal briquettes to amino acids used in drug development. But, biofuels have been the driving force for growth in this industry in recent years. In response to environmental concerns surrounding petroleum, several new biofuels refineries in Oregon have started to make ethanol from grains, and food processing and agricultural waste.

A large portion of Oregon's employment in the fertilizer manufacturing industry is in factories that produce forms of ammonia for large-scale agriculture, golf courses, and home lawn and garden uses. Again, concern with the environment and the origins of the food we eat has helped boost employment. In recent years, several companies have started up that produce organic fertilizer through distilling or composting a variety of inputs such as fish waste, agricultural waste, and peat.

With the aging of the population, almost everything related to health care is growing, and pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing is no exception. Oregon's pharmaceutical industry is characterized by chemicals for diagnostics including indicators, nutritional supplements, and plasma donation. True to Oregon's reputation as natural and organic, several companies that produce organic, herbal, vegetarian, and vegan nutritional supplements, are taking advantage of the state's varied agriculture, and are helping the industry to grow.

Table 1
Oregon Chemical Manufacturing Industry Structure Over Time
Industry  2001 Employment   2012 Employment Change Percent Change
Chemical manufacturing 4,060 3,575 -485 -12%
  Industrial gas manufacturing c 104 NA NA
  Other basic inorganic chemical manufacturing 212 192 -20 -9%
  Other basic organic chemical manufacturing 204 316 112 55%
  Resin and synthetic rubber manufacturing 309 168 -141 -46%
  Fertilizer manufacturing 196 308 112 57%
  Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 764 875 111 15%
  Paint and coating manufacturing 509 458 -51 -10%
  Adhesive manufacturing 325 116 -209 -64%
  Soap and cleaning compound manufacturing 161 171 10 6%
  Toilet preparation manufacturing 109 117 8 7%
  All other chemical preparation manufacturing 598 391 -207 -35%
c = confidential
Industry Wages are High in the Chemical Manufacturing Industry
Many occupations in the chemical manufacturing industry pay well. Table 2 shows the annual average wages for the overall industry and its sub-categories. At $57,377, the annual average wage for the chemical industry is considerably higher than the all-industries annual average wage of $44,273.

Within the industry, adhesive manufacturing is the highest at $78,391. At the lower end is toilet preparation manufacturing at $31,818. Somewhat surprisingly, pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing is below the industry average at $46,397, likely due to the prevalence of nutritional supplements manufacturing.

Occupations in the chemical industry are a mix of those common to manufacturing and those unique to chemical manufacturing. Table 3 shows the 10 largest occupations in chemical manufacturing. The wages listed are for all industries that include the occupation, not just chemical manufacturing. The two largest occupations are production jobs that have low- to mid-level wages and require only a high school education. The highest-paid occupation is sales representative with a median wage of $40.23 and an educational requirement of a high school diploma and moderate on-the-job training.

For the occupations which are unique to chemical manufacturing, wages and educational requirements are higher. Chemists' median wage is $27.66 an hour and the educational requirement is a bachelor's degree. Chemical equipment operators and tenders' median wage is $21.99 an hour and requires a high school education and on-the-job training. Chemical technicians make a median wage of $22.41 an hour and require at least an associate's degree.

Table 2
Oregon Chemical Manufacturing 2012 Annual Average Wages
Industry Wages
Chemical manufacturing $57,377
  Adhesive manufacturing $78,391
  Industrial gas manufacturing $76,132
  Other basic organic chemical manufacturing $70,940
  Resin and synthetic rubber manufacturing $67,454
  Other basic inorganic chemical manufacturing $63,513
  Fertilizer manufacturing $54,592
  All other chemical preparation manufacturing $54,460
  Soap and cleaning compound manufacturing $53,428
  Paint and coating manufacturing $46,789
  Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing $46,397
  Toilet preparation manufacturing $31,818
Table 3
Wages for the Top 10 Chemical Manufacturing Occupations in Oregon
Occupation 2010 Employment Percent of Industry Emplyment 2012 Occupational Median Wage
Mixing and Blending Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders 237 6% $17.48
Packaging and Filling Machine Operators and Tenders 174 5% $11.94
Chemists 164 4% $27.66
Chemical Equipment Operators and Tenders 160 4% $21.99
Production Workers, All Other 155 4% $12.25
Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Technical and Scientific Products 140 4% $40.23
Shipping, Receiving, and Traffic Clerks 135 4% $14.14
First-Line Supervisors/Managers of Production and Operating Workers 125 3% $25.49
Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Except Technical and Scientific Products 114 3% $25.57
Chemical Technicians 94 3% $22.41
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, national employment in the chemical manufacturing industry is expected to decline by 7 percent between 2010 and 2020. Within chemical manufacturing, pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing is expected to grow by 2 percent. This may bode well for Oregon's chemical industry since the largest portion of chemical manufacturing employment (25%) is in pharmaceutical and medicine products.

Although there is no published projection for chemical manufacturing in Oregon, most occupations in the industry are expected to grow. In addition, with an aging labor force, increased replacement needs from retirements will help provide opportunity. Table 4 shows the expected employment change and replacement needs of occupations most directly related to chemical manufacturing. All of these occupations have additional opportunities created by replacement openings.

While employment in the chemical manufacturing industry has declined over the past decade, the industry has shown resilience by diversifying into different products as they come into demand. With the aging population, pharmaceuticals and medicine will likely continue to grow. In addition, the demand for biofuels, organic fertilizers, and organic and vegetarian nutritional supplements should help bolster employment in the future.

Table 4
2010-2020 Employment Projections for Select Chemical Manufacturing Occupations 
in Oregon
  Projected Annual Openings
Occupation Growth Replacement Total
Mixing and Blending Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders 11                  31       42
Packaging and Filling Machine Operators and Tenders 69                  93      162
Chemists 11                  21       32
Chemical Equipment Operators and Tenders 2                    5         7
Production Workers, All Other 130                189      320
Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Technical and Scientific Products 108                128      236
Chemical Technicians 8                    6       15