Wisconsin is adding manufacturing jobs, but not in metro Milwaukee

Industry employment down in three of four metro counties

Economic indicators

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:10 am

Metro Milwaukee lost more than 1,000 manufacturing jobs during the 12 months ending in June, even as the rest of Wisconsin increased employment in the industry by nearly 4,800, according to data from the Department of Workforce Development.

Economic indicators

The decline continues a trend in which Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties have not collectively shown a year-over-year gain in manufacturing jobs since the end of 2015.

Metro Milwaukee did see gains in food and chemical manufacturing over last year, but those were more than offset by declines in metal fabrication, machinery and transportation equipment industries. Waukesha County saw the largest decline at 1.4 percent, Milwaukee was down 1.2 percent as was Ozaukee. Washington was the only county to post gains in the sector, up 1.9 percent.

Manufacturing employers in particular have described challenges in finding skilled workers and some companies are turning to automation to make employees available for other tasks. Recent projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated the manufacturing industry nationally would lose 736,000 jobs by 2026.

Average weekly wages in manufacturing have been increasing in the metro area, up an average of at least 3.3 percent over the last year across all four counties. The average increase statewide has been about 2.8 percent. But the increases are only ahead of increases in the private sector in general by more than 0.5 percent in Waukesha and Washington counties.

The rest of the state was experiencing a similar trend to metro Milwaukee for much of 2016 but posted year-over-year manufacturing jobs gains in January through June, according to the latest Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data.

The QCEW is generally referred to as the gold-standard for jobs data because it relies on payroll data from nearly all employers, unlike the surveys used to produce monthly estimates. The Department of Workforce Development posted Wisconsin’s second quarter data to its website ahead of next week’s national data release by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wisconsin added 32,037 private-sector jobs during the 12 months ending in June. The increase of 1.29 percent is the best since July of last year, but is still lower than the state’s average over the last three years. The state ended 2016 with its worst 12-month period for job growth since 2010 but monthly estimates showed a dramatic drop in the state’s unemployment rate during the first half of this year. The latest estimates for October still show metro Milwaukee trailing behind the rest of the state, although September figures were more promising. 

Metro Milwaukee added 6,971 private-sector jobs for the year ending in June. The 0.93 percent increase was boosted by a nearly 4 percent increase in Washington County and an almost 1.4 percent increase in Waukesha County. Milwaukee County added 1,880 jobs, a 0.44 percent increase and Ozaukee County was nearly flat.

The region’s job declines weren’t limited to manufacturing. Retail trade employment was down 229, primarily driven by a decline of 718 jobs in Milwaukee County. The sector was up 271 jobs in Washington County and another 308 in Waukesha County.

Job growth was strong to the north and south with Sheboygan County increasing private sector employment 2.1 percent and Kenosha County adding 3,782 jobs, an increase of almost 7 percent. Walworth County was up 1.05 percent and Racine County was up 0.55 percent.

Read more economic data reports at the BizTracker page.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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