Many people think manufacturing is a dying industry. Manufacturing was once a large and strong industry in North Carolina, and it still is important, says N.C. State University economist Mike Walden.
“I think many people would be surprised to know that manufacturing in North Carolina accounts for $.20 out of every $1 of income. And that is actually twice as big as the contribution of real estate. It is three times larger than the contribution of health care. Output — that is, the quantity of what our factories produce — is twice as big today as it was 30 years ago.
“So why do people think that manufacturing is dying? Well, number one, it is a different kind of manufacturing. We are manufacturing more machinery. We are manufacturing more technological products, pharmaceuticals, food products. And, of course, those manufactured items that really North Carolina was known for years ago — clothing and furniture and, in some sense, cigarettes — we are not doing as much of that. So there has been a shift in the kind of manufacturing.
“Also there has been a shift in the way we manufacture products. I mean any product can be made using two major inputs, people and machinery. And what has been happening in U.S. manufacturing — really, worldwide, too, — over the last 40 years is that manufacturers are using more machinery and fewer people. And so even though we are producing more, we are using fewer people to do that.”