Indiana added manufacturing jobs for the second straight year, but the region missed out on the gains.
Manufacturer's News Inc., an industry research firm, found the state gained 8,020 manufacturing jobs from April 2012 to April 2013, an increase of 1.4 percent. Northwest Indiana, however, saw a 0.5 percent decline in industrial employment over the same period, largely because of 1.7 percent drop in the production of steel and other primary metals.
The manufacturing industry gained 4,300 new jobs in June and accounted for more than 80 percent of the new private-sector jobs added in the state last month, according to the Department of Workforce Development. Indiana led the nation in manufacturing jobs added in June.
"Indiana is doing better than the nation as a whole," said Tom Dubin, president and CEO of Evanston, Ill.-based Manufacturer's News, which has surveyed manufacturers across the country for more than a century. "Industrial employment in other states grew by about 0.5 percent, but Indiana gained more than 8,000 jobs. The transportation industry in Indiana is especially strong, with Toyota, Subaru and automotive suppliers bouncing back from the economic downturn."
Nearly 9,700 manufacturers operate in Indiana, and they employ 556,367 workers, according to Manufacturer's News. Steelmakers ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel Corp., which run mills in Lake and Porter counties, rank as two of the three biggest manufacturers in the state.
Lake County is one of the biggest industrial counties in the state, with more than 29,000 manufacturing jobs.
Northwest Indiana has 88,945 industrial jobs, which is down 0.5 percent from last year. The slight drop in the area's employment level can be traced largely to the steel industry's recent struggles, said Patrick Kiely, president of the Indiana Manufacturers Association.
Steel mills can't make shipments fast enough to the resurgent automotive industry, but steelmakers haven't been getting as many orders for construction projects and face trying economic conditions globally, Kiely said. Aleris, for instance, recently shut down its Hammond plant that had furnished recycled aluminum to the mills.
Other manufacturing sectors in Indiana have been faring better, and auto parts suppliers such as Lear Corp. and Contract Services Group in Hammond have been running full steam with three shifts.
Employment in the transportation equipment sector, which includes the auto industry, posted a 4.7 percent increase to 81,567 jobs statewide, according to Manufacturer's News.
However, the manufacturing industry's momentum has started to slow a little nationally in the past few months, Kiely said.
Hiring has fallen off and overall economic growth has slowed to an anemic 1 percent since February, he said. Manufacturers face looming challenges, such as weak demand for exports in Europe and softening demand in Asia.
The recovery has been protracted, but the industry is much stronger than it was during the height of the Great Recession, when many industrial companies saw orders dry up and had to let employees go.
"We bottomed out in June 2009," Kiely said. "But since then we've brought manufacturing jobs faster than any state in the station."
Since then, Indiana has added 64,000 manufacturing jobs, the second most in the nation, according to the Department of Workforce Development.
The state has remained attractive to manufacturers because of its low cost of doing business, skilled workforce and central location, Dubin said.
"It's centrally located, and manufacturers need transportation hubs to ship their products all over the world," he said. "They need to have access to highways, freightways and waterways."