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Small Manufacturers Play a Big Role in the U.S. Economy

Manufacturers are an important part of America’s economy. According to data from the 2015 County Business Patterns program, manufacturers are the nation’s fourth-largest employer, with 11.6 million employees across the nation and an annual payroll of $656.8 billion. They produce trillions of dollars in shipments annually, across a wide range of goods.

When most people think about manufacturing in the United States, they picture large plants producing goods such as cars or heavy machinery. And indeed, these manufacturers play a key role in the U.S. economy. For example, the nation’s 340 motor vehicle manufacturing establishments have 187,311 employees; over 90 percent of their employees work in 53 establishments with 1,000 or more employees. Sixty-three percent of the employment in the aerospace products and parts manufacturing industry and 55 percent of the employment in the household appliance manufacturing work in establishments with over 1,000 employees. While manufacturing establishments with over 1,000 employees make up only 0.3 percent of all manufacturing establishments, they make up over 15 percent of all manufacturing employees.

But there is another face to U.S. manufacturing. Small employer manufacturers (those with fewer than 50 employees) shine in many sectors. For example, 92 percent of the cement and concrete product manufacturing establishments in the U.S. have fewer than 50 employees. These small establishments employ 89,058 people, or over half of all employees in this industry. And they have wide geographic diversity — as can be seen in the map below from the Census Business Builder: Small Business Edition, every state and 2,269 of America’s 3,138 counties are home to a cement and concrete product manufacturer.

Number of Cement and Concrete Product Manufactures by State: 2015

In addition to cement and concrete products, there’s a wide range of manufacturing industries in which small establishments play a big role. For example, 52 percent of employees who work in machine shops; turned product; and screw, nut and bolt manufacturing work in a location with less than 50 employees. Similarly, 598 of the nation’s 631 apparel accessories and other apparel manufacturing establishments have fewer than 50 employees. Small cut and sew apparel manufacturers employ over 40,000 people — almost half of all employees in that industry.

In addition, businesses with no paid employees (such as independent contractors or sole proprietorships) are significant in some manufacturing industries too. These include fabricated metal products manufacturing, printing and related support activities, and bakeries and tortilla manufacturing.

On October 6, 2017, we acknowledged and celebrated the many workers and businesses — large and small — that manufacture everything from textiles to machinery to food. Check out our Manufacturing Day page for more statistics on America’s manufacturers.


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