Kirksville — Band uniforms for high schools and major colleges. Fishing reels used by professional anglers. Shock absorbers. Robes worn by U.S. athletes at the London Olympics. Industrial cables used in products that venture to outer space. T-shirts commemorating the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series title. Parts used in aircraft assembled around the world.
All products of labor long since gone from the United States, memories from an evaporating manufacturing base?
Nope. Try items being manufactured in your backyard.
While a common refrain nationally is the United States’ manufacturing base has eroded, that jobs are gone and never coming back, a significant piece of the northern Missouri economy continues to thrive upon these jobs and people around the globe depend on the hidden gems produced here in northern Missouri.
(See Sunday’s Daily Express for “Northern Missouri’s Hidden Gems”)
During the last decade, the number of Americans employed in manufacturing jobs tumbled from around 15.5 million in 2002 to a low of just more than 11 million in late 2009 during the most recent economic recession, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Since then, however, manufacturing jobs have steadied and seen gains, recently topping more than 12 million in the U.S.
And through those difficult times, northern Missouri’s manufacturers have continued to account for a significant percentage of both the overall workforce and region’s economy.
The reasons they’ve stayed while so many others have sought seemingly greener pastures overseas are numerous, according to the region’s economic development leaders, including loyalty, ties to agriculture, and access to highways, waterways and rails found here in the nation’s midsection.
Locally, K-REDI Director of Economic Development Carolyn Chrisman believes the cost of doing business is a leading reason for Adair County’s success.
“In larger metro and urban areas, land and building sites are much more expensive,” Chrisman said. “We also have reasonable taxes to offer. We have affordable utilities and water/sewer…so lots of costs to do business are more affordable in Kirksville.”
A study of eight counties – Adair, Audrain, Cooper, Linn, Livingston, Macon, Ralls and Randolph – and statistics compiled by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center showed 6,892 people employed by one of the 177 “firms” classified as manufacturers.
That figure represents about 18 percent of the workforce engaged in private industry.
In Adair County, 699 people on non-government payrolls, or almost 9 percent of the total workforce, are employed by area manufacturers.
Those workers represent a significant chunk of the region’s economy beyond their employment status, taking home more than $256 million in wages, or nearly a quarter of the private industry payroll total.
Adair County manufacturing employees earn $23.7 million in wages annually, accounting for more than 12 percent of the total private industry payroll.
And as the work continues across the region, products continue to be shipped to points across the world, moving the “Made in Missouri” stamp to places like China, Brazil, South Africa and beyond.
“People think America does not manufacture in the foreign market, but we do,” said Sebastien Heintz, CEO of Zenith Aircraft Company in Mexico, Mo. “Some local companies right here profit off of exporting to foreign countries, which is neat.”
Future sustaining or growth in the Adair County manufacturing base will depend largely upon improvements to infrastructure and to the workforce. Chrisman said the four-laning of Highway 63 to Iowa will be key.
“Factories really only have highways to get raw materials into Kirksville and products out,” she said, adding state laws and regulations will also play a role in keeping Missouri competitive.
And while Kirksville has and continues to have a strong workforce, Chrisman said keeping that workforce educated on emerging technologies will be critical in Kirksville remaining a viable location for future manufacturing.
“As a community if we do a better job at having a skilled workforce then this will lead to a better future for manufacturing in our area,” Chrisman said.
Editor’s note: This story was a regional project conducted by the Kirksville Daily Express, Macon Chronicle-Herald, Linn County Leader, Hannibal Courier-Post, Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune, Mexico Ledger, Moberly Monitor-Index and Boonville Daily News.
This is the first in a series of stories the Kirksville Daily Express will produce examining different areas of the local economy. For the next installment, see the Oct. 7 edition of the Daily Express.