Let’s hear it for local manufacturers: They provide good-paying jobs and help keep the local economy humming.
But it seems like everybody is looking for more workers. It was a problem before COVID-19 and the pandemic has made it even worse.
In this area, Action Fabricating, BTD, Lakeshirts, SJE, Team Industries and Dynamic Homes all participated in a manufacturing job fair on Thursday, hoping to boost their workforces. We wish them well.
The state Labor Market Information Office says pandemic-related early retirement is part of the problem, along with younger workers also dropping out of the labor force due to COVID-19.
But the deeper reasons for the workforce shortages are years of economic growth, an aging workforce heading toward retirement, and fewer young people to replace them.
It may not feel like it to local employers who can’t find workers, but northwest Minnesota is actually the brightest spot in the state when it comes to retaining workers. In this area, the labor force dropped by about 4,000 workers (or about 1.3%) from 2020 to 2021 -- less by percentage and actual numbers than any other region in Minnesota.
Of course, a year earlier, from 2019 to 2020, northwest Minnesota was the darkest spot in the state, losing more manufacturing workers (about 5,000) than any other region, including the Twin Cities. So there’s that.
At any rate, employers across Minnesota have had to get creative to find good help. That has meant raising wages, improving benefits, hiring people with less education or experience than they normally hire, and offering on-the-job training to make up for it. The Labor Market Information Office says that happens where the job vacancy rates are the highest.
That has led to higher wages, and outstate wages that more closely match those paid in the Twin Cities. In northwest Minnesota, manufacturing wages have risen from under $10 an hour in 2006 to nearly $15 an hour last year.
Manufacturing companies paid out about $1.5 billion in total payroll in the region last year, with average annual wages of just under $55,000.
Not bad: That was nearly $10,000 higher than the total of all industries in the region, where annual wages averaged $45,200 in 2020.
And anybody who reads the want ads can see that manufacturing wages have continued to rise this year.
One thing is clear, with around 28,000 jobs at more than 820 businesses, manufacturing is one of the most important industries in the Detroit Lakes area and across northwest Minnesota.
That’s why Gov. Tim Walz proclaimed October Manufacturing Month in Minnesota. “Because of the importance of this critical industry and the need to highlight the many career opportunities in this in-demand field,” according to CareerForce Minnesota.
About one in every seven jobs in northwest Minnesota are in manufacturing, making it the second largest employing industry in this part of the state, behind only healthcare and social assistance.
The largest manufacturing sector in northwest Minnesota is food manufacturing, which had nearly 6,000 jobs at 95 firms in 2020. As consumer preferences and needs changed during the pandemic, employment actually increased at food manufacturing over the year, with the region adding just over 50 jobs in 2020. With a range of entry-level and higher skilled jobs, food manufacturing offers average annual wages just above $54,000.
So how are other types of manufacturing doing?
With 3,935 jobs at 158 shops, fabricated metal product manufacturing is the second largest sector in the region. This includes machine shops that supply the region's other large and distinguishing sectors: Transportation equipment manufacturing, which had about 3,850 jobs at 31 employers, and machinery manufacturing, which had just over 3,800 jobs at 98 establishments. The region also has a large and successful wood product manufacturing sector, with 3,171 jobs at 70 firms.
So three cheers for everyone involved in manufacturing: Minnesota wouldn’t be the same without you.