Fort Wayne ranked second in an analysis of the best U.S. cities for manufacturing jobs, according to results released Thursday.
Kempler Industries commissioned Digital Third Coast to analyze data from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The study looked at:
• Total manufacturing jobs
• Manufacturing jobs per 100,000 residents
• Growth in manufacturing jobs
• Median industry income
Although Fort Wayne didn't have the most manufacturing jobs, the Summit City vaulted up the rankings when the other factors were calculated, according to the weighted system.
“We weighted the number of manufacturing jobs per capita most heavily (50 points of 100 total) to accentuate the communities where manufacturing is the dominant industry in that metro area,” Digital Third Coast spokeswoman Tricia Harte said in an email. “Year-over-year growth was weighted second heaviest (25 points) as it indicates an upward trend of job growth in that particular market, and an environment that is actively fostering the manufacturing sector.
“Median housing costs and income for manufacturing positions were weighted at 10 and 15 points respectively, as they contribute to quality of life,” she added.
“What brought Fort Wayne to such a high position in the ranking is its affordability for manufacturing workers,” Harte said. “Of the cities analyzed, Fort Wayne is the 3rd most affordable when looking at the median monthly housing cost. Affordable cost of living translates into paychecks going farther and better quality of life for manufacturing workers.”
“Fort Wayne also ranked in the top 20 for year-over-year growth and Fort Wayne ranked high for year-over-year growth between 2018 and 2019,” she added.
Federal data show 37,600 manufacturing jobs in Fort Wayne – or 6,096 for every 100,000 residents. Job growth from 2018 to 2019 was 6.2 percent. And the local median industry income was $38,167.
Rachel Blakeman, director of Purdue University Fort Wayne's Community Research Institute, said the manufacturing industry pays relatively well for relatively low-skill jobs.
That's great when the economy is expanding, but consumer demand for products including vehicles can decline sharply during recession. Local economies heavily dependent on manufacturing can suffer more than others that are well-diversified.
“Are we at risk? Absolutely,” Blakeman said. “But this shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who works in economic development or workforce development.”
Even so, she added, “I'd rather have manufacturing jobs than not have them.”