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Heavy Metal: Oregon's Primary Metal Manufacturing Industry
by Pat O'Connor
Published Jul-18-2013

Employment in Oregon's primary metal manufacturing may have peaked in 1998, but it remains an important industry in the state. Currently primary metal manufacturing provides about 8,200 jobs in Oregon, down from more than 11,000 jobs in 1998. That employment decline nearly mirrors the decline of the manufacturing sector as a whole. Oregon's total manufacturing and primary metal manufacturing employment declined 25 and 26 percent respectively from 1998 to 2012. As a result, primary metal manufacturing's share of total manufacturing employment in 2012 is similar to what it was in 1998, comprising a little less than 5 percent of Oregon's manufacturing jobs.

Despite the employment decline since 1998, Oregon still has a high concentration of primary metal manufacturing employment, nearly twice the national average.

Two out of three jobs in Oregon's primary metal manufacturing sector were at foundries of ferrous and nonferrous metals in 2012. Ferrous metal foundries comprise 43 percent of Oregon's total primary metal manufacturing employment; that compares with 18 percent nationally. Nonferrous metal foundries comprise 24 percent of the industry's total employment in Oregon; that compares with 13 percent in the U.S.

Graph 1
Oregon primary metal manufacturing employment
Geographically Concentrated
The vast majority of Oregon's primary metal manufacturing employment is located within three of Oregon's 36 counties. Multnomah, Clackamas, and Linn counties accounted for 89 percent of the industry's total employment in 2012. Multnomah County led the way in 2012 with more than 3,300 jobs or 41 percent of the total statewide employment in primary metal manufacturing. Clackamas County had nearly 2,200 jobs within the industry and accounted for more than 26 percent of the statewide employment in the industry. In 2012 Linn County employed nearly 1,800 in primary metal manufacturing, or 22 percent of the statewide total. However, primary metal manufacturing in Linn County comprised 4.4 percent of all covered employment in the county; the highest share of any county in Oregon.

Oregon Outpaces the Nation
Oregon's primary metal manufacturing industry has grown faster than the industry nationally in terms of its output (as measured by its contribution to Oregon's gross domestic product). Graph 2 illustrates that since 2003 Oregon has significantly outpaced the national average growth within the industry. Oregon's output within the industry is 45 percent higher than it was in 1997. Nationally, the industry's output is only 5 percent above its 1997 level.

Graph 2
Primary metal manufacturing GDP (current dollars)
An Older Male-Dominated Workforce
In 2011, nearly 42 percent of Oregon's private-sector workforce was age 45 or older. Oregon's workforce within primary metal manufacturing is significantly older; 54 percent of its workforce was age 45 or older. Primary metal manufacturing also has a larger share of workers ages 35 to 44 (24%) than Oregon's total private sector (21%).

With older workers comprising such a large share of primary metal manufacturing's workforce, younger workers are underrepresented in the industry. Workers in the industry in their teens barely show up on Graph 3. The industry has a smaller share of workers in their twenties and early thirties compared with Oregon's total private-sector workforce. The industry also has a smaller share of workers ages 65 and older compared with Oregon's private sector.

More than four out of five (82%) workers in Oregon's primary metal manufacturing industry are men. Across all industries in Oregon's private sector, men comprise 51 percent of the workforce. Looking at Oregon's manufacturing sector as a whole, 73 percent of the workforce are men.

Graph 3
Employment by age 2011 annual average
Occupations in Primary Metal Manufacturing

The primary metal manufacturing industry has many jobs that pay well. The average annual wage for all jobs in Oregon was $44,273 in 2012. The average wage in primary metal manufacturing in 2012 was $69,883; nearly $26,000 or 58 percent more than Oregon's average wage. The industry's average wage was also higher than Oregon's average manufacturing wage of $62,161 in 2012.

Table 1 shows the largest occupations within Oregon's primary metal manufacturing industry along with the average wage for those occupations (across all industries). None of the occupations listed comprise more than 6 percent of the industry's total employment. In fact, these 11 occupations only comprise 42 percent of the industry's total employment. Some industries have a relatively small number of occupations that comprise the majority of the jobs within an industry. Primary metal manufacturing requires many different occupations, with no single occupation dominating the industry employment. There are more than 100 different occupations represented within this industry.

Table 1
Largest Primary Metal Occupations in Oregon
Title 2010 Employment Percent of Industry Employment 2013 Ocupational Average (Mean) Wage
Molding, Coremaking, and Casting Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic 440 6% $16.82
Inspectors, Testers, Sorters, Samplers, and Weighers 427 6% $17.99
Grinding, Lapping, Polishing, and Buffing Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic 412 5% $17.50
Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers 331 4% $18.24
Supervisors and Managers of Production and Operating Workers 325 4% $26.55
Industrial Machinery Mechanics 271 4% $26.04
Foundry Mold Makers and Coremakers 268 4% NA
Metal-Refining Furnace Operators and Tenders 209 3% NA
Machinists 175 2% $22.07
Extruding and Drawing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic 169 2% $17.44
Production Worker's Helpers 155 2% $13.77
Oregon's primary metal manufacturing industry is projected to grow significantly from 2010 to 2020. The 2010 to 2020 industry projections from the Oregon Employment Department project the industry will add 1,800 jobs over that period, growing 24 percent and outpacing Oregon's overall economy which is projected to grow 18 percent over that time. However, one thing to keep in mind is that 2010 is an unusual starting point due to the steep job loss in the two previous years. The primary metal manufacturing industry experienced steep job losses from 2008 to 2010 due to the slow economy, shedding 2,200 jobs or nearly 23 percent of its employment over that time. The 24 percent projected growth in the industry from 2010 to 2020 will still leave the 2020 employment level roughly 300 jobs below its 2008 employment level.