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Manufacturing’s Glimmer in the Great Lakes

The 21 largest metropolitan areas of the hard-hit Great Lakes region added more than 94,000 jobs in the second quarter of 2010--the largest one-quarter employment increase these places have seen in more than a decade. What’s even more surprising? The manufacturing sector accounted for more than a quarter of these job gains.

But despite these momentous one-quarter gains, the condition of the Great Lakes region’s major metropolitan areas nearly three years after the beginning of the Great Recession remains similar to that of the U.S. manufacturing industry, one of the pillars of the region’s economy: things are better than they were a year ago, but still far from being good.

According to data recently released in Brookings’ Great Lakes Monitor, all 21 large Great Lakes metros saw employment and output growth last quarter. Eighteen of these metros added manufacturing jobs between the first and second quarters of this year, with Youngstown’s manufacturing employment leaping by 8.9 percent, the biggest gain in the nation. In fact, of the 10 large U.S. metropolitan areas with the highest percentage gains in manufacturing jobs from the first to second quarters of this year, six are in the Great Lakes. Almost every major manufacturing industry in the region, including the auto industry, grew during the quarter and all added jobs.

However, recession-battered places within the Great Lakes region, like Dayton, Detroit, Toledo, and Youngstown, have lost as much as 17.1 percent of the jobs they had prior to their pre-recession employment peaks. The 21 large metros within the Great Lakes region have lost a combined 1.3 million jobs since the region’s peak in the second quarter of 2007.

So while the recent gains are welcomed news, they hardly signal a turnaround for manufacturing or for the region. Like most Great Lakes metropolitan areas, manufacturing has not recovered its prerecession output or employment levels. Nationwide, manufacturing output was 4 percent lower in the second quarter than it was at the end of 2007 and it was still 9.2 lower in the Great Lakes’ 21 largest metros.

Percent Change in Total Manufacturing Employment, 2010 Q1 to 2010 Q2

Quarterly output growth in Great Lakes metros continued to lose steam during the second quarter as growth rates slackened in 17 of the 21 Great Lakes metros and in the nation as a whole (the exceptions were Buffalo, Syracuse, Des Moines, and Milwaukee). In fact, there has been a consistent decline in the pace of GMP growth over the last three quarters, suggesting the region’s recovery is not accelerating but slowing.

What will close the region’s 1.3 million job gap and provide the sustained economic growth it needs? The Great Lakes jobs machine needs to be super-charged given the massive losses these places have endured, not just over the course of the recession, but over the course of the decade. The National Export Initiative lays out a laudable plan to double U.S. exports to create the jobs needed “to assure a strong and durable recovery”. That will hopefully be a boon to heavily export-oriented economies of the Great Lakes. But as our colleague Emilia Istrate points out, this federal export strategy does not provide tools tailored for places specifically. It's unclear how the federal government will engage metro partners in the places that contain much of the nation’s existing manufacturing capacity--places like Dayton, Detroit, Toledo, and Youngstown.

Metropolitan areas in the Great Lakes will have to rely on local leaders from government and businesses small and large to craft export strategies dependent on cooperation and ingenuity rather than exchange rates in order to achieve future quarters of record-setting of job growth.