I’m a “glass half full” type person. But unbridled optimism without some level of realism isn’t healthy. So, when asked recently if manufacturing was still happening and important in Blair County, may response was quick – You bet it is – and it’s growing.
The manufacturing sector remains a crucial part of our national and local economy. Manufacturing represents a significant portion of our employment base with approximately 12 percent of the county’s overall employment. The statewide average of just under 10 percent.
The downside impact of the pandemic on Blair County’s manufacturing sector was significant, resulting in a -3.5 percent decrease in overall GDP and the loss of hundreds of jobs. The rebound though has been impressive, with manufacturing GDP recovering completely and surpassing pre-pandemic levels. A recent report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis noted that Blair County’s manufacturing output increased by 4 percent in 2021, ranking 26th out of 67 counties. Manufacturing has proven resilient.
Despite continued capital investments in highly automated production, job counts in manufacturing have managed to increase as well. Since November 2021 the sector has added approximately 100 new positions in Blair County. That increase in output and jobs is even more notable given the closure of one of our major employers, Appvion Paper Mill, in the spring of 2021, which resulted in the loss of 297 jobs.
There are more opportunities on the horizon. A renewed enthusiasm to re-shore production continues to gain strength. Global supply chain challenges have fueled a rethink on how manufacturers source materials and labor. Low-cost, far away locations, are losing their luster in favor of more reliable, proximate, and labor steady locations. Emerging opportunities within the energy sector, especially in the areas of hydrogen and small modular nuclear production will also create new manufacturing opportunities in the coming years.
We may be doing more with less when it comes to modern manufacturing, but there are likely more opportunities for new, diverse, and niche market manufacturing than any point in recent history. We are bullish on that manufacturing future and will continue to work hard to secure those investments in our regional market area.