Manufacturing Employment is Important and Varied in Douglas County

by Henry Fields

March 7, 2022

Manufacturing makes up 12% of Douglas County’s employment, more than the state (10%) or nation (9%). Speaking about manufacturing as one thing can be a bit misleading, however. There are many different subsectors within manufacturing with varying growth patterns, wages, and economic trajectories.

Analyzing three of the largest manufacturing subsectors in Douglas County helps make their diversity clearer. Wood products, food, and transportation equipment manufacturing all have vastly different inputs, customers, and market conditions, so it would make sense that their employment and wage trends would look different.
Wood products is the clear outlier among subsectors. It’s the largest, making up 63% of all manufacturing jobs in the county. Of the three examined sectors, it’s the only one to have an annual average wage higher than the state’s average for that sector (the average annual wage in all industries was $45,000 in Douglas County, nearly $15,000 less than the state average).

Transportation and food are both significantly smaller and with lower wages, although food manufacturing about matches the state’s average wage in the sector, with transportation equipment averaging significantly less. This likely has to do with the local industry mix of those subsectors: food manufacturing in Douglas makes more finished products, which tends to be higher wage than processing, and locally transportation equipment manufacturing is less likely to include very high-wage industries such as aerospace.
The long-term employment trend tells another part of the story, and shows why diversity of the manufacturing sector is important. In the chart above, the sectors are indexed to their level of employment in January 2001. Most manufacturing sectors had a difficult 2008 recession and a relatively strong 2020 recession. Food manufacturing bucks the trend, without any major decline in 2008, and having nearly twice as many employees in 2021 as in 2001.

Wood products has lost employees in the last two decades, with about a third fewer workers since 2001. Transportation equipment saw a surge, doubling in size during the mid-aughts, before a severe decline in 2008, to 50% below 2001 levels. In the time since the Great Recession, transportation equipment has recovered employment significantly, and wood products only slightly.

It’s easy to see that manufacturing is important to the Douglas County economy, but just like in the economy overall, the different subsectors help to balance one another and support growth and recovery during downturns. Wood products, food, and transportation equipment all contribute part of the manufacturing picture in our region and state.


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