China may be the world’s largest manufacturer, but the United States remains an attractive market for exporters.

Manufacturing has always been a major source of growth, economic power and innovation in the United States. Over 10-million Americans are employed in manufacturing, which makes a significant contribution to the United States GDP (see glossary).

With the recent rise in Chinese labour costs, there has been a resurgence in manufacturing in the United States. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, manufacturing in the United States, taken alone, would be the eighth largest economy in the world. Could United States manufacturing be entering its second golden age?

PwC reports that just as multinational manufacturers have been eager to place their stake in the fast-growing markets in Asia-Pacific, Brazil, and Africa, some manufacturing companies are rethinking their United States strategy, whether reshoring or locating new plants. Factors influencing decisions to reshore manufacturing include availability of skills, transportation costs, availability of capital, and the tax and regulatory environment.

The manufacturing sector is made up of businesses that transform materials, substances or components into new products with the help of machinery or equipment. They are often described as plants, factories or mills. Some businesses, such as bakeries and custom tailors, sell products from the same premises where the products are made.

The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is used by the United States government to classify businesses according to type of economic activity. Industrial manufacturing is divided into 21 sub-groupings, from apparel to wood product manufacturing.

Industry classification Number of employees Value of products shipments ($1,000)
Petroleum and coal products manufacturing 99,030 795,584,982
Chemical manufacturing 686,712 713,226,408
Food manufacturing 1,346,165 683,193,138
Transportation equipment manufacturing 1,238,895 673,679,203
Machinery manufacturing 963,602 339,862,699
Computer and electronic product manufacturing 807,335 314,866,524
Fabricated metal product manufacturing 1,275,573 304,754,150
Primary metal manufacturing 372,906 271,889,155
Plastics and rubber products manufacturing 676,671 194,953,033
Paper manufacturing 346,527 171,097,981
Miscellaneous manufacturing 556,693 139,125,698
Beverage and tobacco product manufacturing 139,313 127,067,319
Electrical equipment, appliance, and component manufacturing 324,313 111,458,679
Non-metallic mineral product manufacturing 332,937 88,507,240
Printing and related support activities 455,650 78,795,652
Wood product manufacturing 323,301 66,923,613
Furniture and related product manufacturing 321,531 57,168,690
Textile mills 101,883 29,949,398
Textile product mills 106,437 21,009,493
Apparel manufacturing 93,892 9,639,675
Leather and allied product manufacturing 27,112 4,760,637

Source: US Census Bureau, 2011
Annual Survey of Manufactures

Petroleum and coal have the highest value of products shipments, followed by chemical manufacturing, which includes healthcare pharmaceutical and medicinal products as well as explosives. Over 1.3-million people were employed in food manufacturing in 2011, working in businesses as diverse as patisseries and abattoirs.

Another large employer and an industry that’s vital to the United States economy is transportation equipment manufacturing. Automotive manufacturing, shipbuilding, aerospace equipment, railroad stock, and military vehicles all form part of this grouping.

Businesses classified as ‘miscellaneous manufacturing’ by NAICS include manufacturers of medical equipment, sporting and athletic goods, musical instruments, burial caskets, jewellery, dolls, toys and games.