A Surface Look at the U.S. Manufacturing Landscape

Manufacturing is a pillar of the economy in many nations, and for the United States, it’s part of our national identity. Once held up by automobile production and American steel, today’s manufacturing industry is more diverse and innovative. The world still relies on the U.S. for manufactured goods, but our export portfolio is significantly broader than it was 100 years ago.

Manufacturing today

The United States exports trillions of dollars in manufactured goods each year. In September 2021 alone, U.S. manufactured exports were valued at $9.25 billion. The biggest sectors in domestic manufacturing — as it stands today — include:

  • Petroleum. The United States remains the world’s top producer of crude oil — a title it has held since 2018. There are currently 32 U.S. states producing crude oil. In 2020, 71% of the country’s total crude oil came from Texas, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Colorado.
  • Steel. While steel production in the United States has decreased in the last few years, shipments in 2020 still measured around 81 million net tons. American steel remains some of the highest-standard stock in the world — drawing a premium compared to other steel products around the globe.
  • Automobiles. Automotive manufacturing remains a core pillar of the American economy. Industry experts benchmarked sales from the automobile manufacturing market at $82.6 billion in 2021. And while 2020-2021 have brought sharp declines to the automotive sector, it remains a cornerstone of domestic production.
  • Aerospace. The United States leads the world in airplane manufacturing. In 2018, the U.S. economy made $151 billion in export sales from the airplane manufacturing industry. The industry also employs around 509,000 workers in scientific and technical jobs in several states, including Washington, California, Texas, Connecticut, Arizona, and Kansas.
  • Telecommunications. In 2020, the telecom industry was worth $580.7 billion — making it one of the largest segments of the global industry. As the world grows more digitally enabled, telecom production promises to remain an industrial mainstay. It also stands to get a massive bump from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which allocates more than $100 billion in total to telecom.
  • Chemicals. The U.S. chemical manufacturing industry employs some 529,000 workers — making it one of the most prolific employers of the manufacturing sectors. It’s comprised of 13,000 firms producing 70,000+ products.
  • Electronics. In the United States, electronics manufacturing is thriving. According to the IPC, the electronics sector produced $710 billion in output and contributed $307.6 billion to GDP in 2020. That figure stands to grow as technology supply chains remain disrupted.
  • Food processing. Food processing is big business in the United States. The USDA reports 36,486 manufacturing plants employing 1.7 million workers as of 2019 — making it one of the single largest domestic manufacturing sectors. While it could shrink in the coming decade due to stagnating population, food exports stand to increase.
  • Consumer goods. The U.S. consumer goods market is the largest in the world — estimated at $635 billion. While the country often gets flack for importing consumer goods, domestic consumer goods manufacturing remains strong.
  • Lumber. As of 2021, wood manufacturing is a $7.7 billion industry in the United States, and it’s growing. Between 2016 and 2021, wood production grew an average of 1.1% annually — a trend expected to continue in future.

U.S. manufacturing is still heavily rooted in automotive and aerospace, but it’s gradually shifting focus to other industries, including chemical manufacturing and food processing. With the rise of the renewables sector and a surging medical device market, it’s likely the American manufacturing portfolio will continue to diversify in the decades to come.

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