by Julie Collins

A recent article in the Duluth News Tribune by David Ross, president of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, spoke of the “rise and fall. . . and rise” of manufacturing in Northeast Minnesota. The area lost a large number of manufacturing jobs in the 1970s and ‘80s, but manufacturing continues to play an important role in the region today.  And many local manufacturers, such as Tritec, a steel fabricator serving the local mining industry and other clients, have been planning expansions, as the Duluth News Tribune reported recently.


Regional Impact

At first glance, manufacturing does not appear to play as a large a role in the economy of the Northeast as it does in many areas of the state. Minnesota is a manufacturing stronghold; manufacturing employment represents 13.4 percent of private employment in the state. (Nationally, the share is 10.8 percent.) The Northeast region’s manufacturing share is even less, at 8.1 percent of private employment. And while some of the state’s major manufacturing sectors are not large in the Northeast, some sectors, like the natural resource-based paper manufacturing and wood products manufacturing sectors, are concentrated in the region. And there’s a lot of diversity in the Northeast region’s seven counties.  Manufacturing represents about six percent of private employment in St. Louis county (home to Duluth), but one in four jobs in Koochiching county. Manufacturing wages were 45 percent higher than wages for all industries in the Northeast region in 2011.


Even if manufacturing represents a smaller share of employment in the Northeast than in the state, it’s still a vital part of the economy.  Manufacturing brings money into the region: a 2009 study (pdf) by the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Bureau of Business and Economics Research found that manufacturing represented almost a quarter of sales in the Northeast Minnesota-Northwest Wisconsin area, even though it accounted for a much smaller share of jobs.


Future Growth

Manufacturing is projected to grow by 8.5 percent from 2010 to 2020 in the Northeast, faster than the 4.9 percent growth rate for Minnesota. Several sectors will be particularly fast-growing, with employment growth of 25 percent of more, including wood products, nonmetallic mineral products, fabricated metal product, architectural and structural metal, transportation equipment, and aerospace parts manufacturing.


If you see your future in manufacturing, you can choose from a wide range of careers. Production occupations are projected to grow by 7.8 percent between 2010 and 2020 in the Northeast region, with a total of 2,290 job openings resulting from industry growth and retirements. The production occupations with the most openings include:

  • Metal and plastic workers
  • Assemblers and fabricators
  • Plant and system operators
  • Woodworkers
  • Food processing workers
  • Textile and furnishings workers


Educational requirements for these positions range from short-term on-the-job training to postsecondary vocational certificates.  Most of these production positions pay above the area median wage, some greatly above. For instance, the median wage for plant and system operators in the Northeast is $27.30 per hour!  You can visit the Northland Works to learn more about these and other growing manufacturing occupations.


Julie Collins is the Regional Labor Market Analyst covering the seven-county Northeast region for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.


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