In its heyday, Milwaukee’s manufacturing sector employed nearly half of all workers in the city in the late 1800s. While the number of people employed by manufacturers has declined since then, Milwaukee’s manufacturing sector certainly hasn’t dried up.
A new state of manufacturing report produced by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and the Milwaukee 7 found that with more than 111,000 people working for manufacturers in 2023, the sector is the metro area’s second largest employer, falling behind only the health care industry.
However, there has been a noteworthy decline in manufacturing job numbers in the last two decades. In 2000, there were 164,699 manufacturing workers in metro Milwaukee. Overall, manufacturing employment fell 31% from 2000 to 2010.
But certain sectors within the manufacturing sector have had the opposite experience and seen a boom in job growth. From 2010 to 2021, the chemical manufacturing industry has seen the most growth at 32.7%. Food manufacturing and fabricated metal products have also seen substantial growth, increasing 10.3% and 10% respectively.
“The manufacturing sector is made up of several component parts. Among the larger subsectors, five of the 12 posted employment growth in this period led by the chemical manufacturing sector,” reads the report. “Job declines were posted in seven of the 12 large subsectors, with the largest fall registered in the transportation equipment sector.”
In 2020 the real GDP of manufacturing goods produced in the region was $14.7 billion, a 0.7% increase from 2010. During that same period, the state saw an 8.7% increase, and the U.S. saw its real GDP in manufacturing increase by 10%.
Among metro Milwaukee’s four counties, real manufacturing GDP ranked highest in Milwaukee ($6.5 billion) and Waukesha ($5.4 billion) counties. The change in real GDP growth was strongest in Washington County, up 31% over the 2010 to 2020 period, while weakest in Milwaukee County with a 9.2% decline.
For the metro area, average annual pay in manufacturing reached $73,786 in 2021. In average annual pay, metro Milwaukee ranks seventh highest among peer metro areas.
Since 2010 annual pay levels have continually seen an increase. The cumulative increase of 27.8% in manufacturing pay in the 2010- 2021 period ranked higher than inflation’s 24.3% increase.
“Local salary figures outpaced averages in four of five manufacturing clusters,” according to the report. “Jobs in energy, bioscience, machinery and printing outpaced the average pay in all other industries. Only the food and beverage manufacturing fell short of that average pay.”