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Decline of U.S. Manufacturing: Factory Body Count and Epitaphs

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The ongoing decline of American manufacturing is not an abstraction. But while most decent folk realize that real people are hurting, I'd like to focus today on a slightly different issue.

I've found a fascinating database online at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which enables one to get a blow-by-blow account of how American industry is falling apart. Go to their website here, then click on "QCEW Databases", then "One Screen Data Search." You can fiddle the various controls to get a picture of different states and different types of establishment.

What does one discover? Over the past decade, the United States has lost 53,224 factories. From 2009 to 2010, we lost 8,000. To be fair, some were quite small, "mom-n-pop" machine shops and the like. But since 2001, we have lost 603 factories employing more than 1,000 workers. That's a 41 percent drop.

Some specific examples, just to give a concrete image to these statistics (source: Manufacturing & Technology News):

Cissell Manufacturing, the Ripon, Wisc.-based manufacturer of commercial laundry machines, closed its plant in Louisville, Ky., laying off 125 workers.

Best Manufacturing Group, the country's largest maker of table linens and nappery for the healthcare industry, company moved most of its production to Cambodia and closed its plants in King of Prussia, Penn., and Mahwah, N.J.

Sparta Manufacturing, a foundry with 70 employees based in Sparta, Mich., closed -- due to competition from China and India, the company said.

Owens-Illinois, the manufacturer of packaging and containers used by hundreds of companies, closed its 300,000-square-foot machine parts plant in Godfrey, Ill.

Belden CDT, a St. Louis-based manufacturer of cable, closed manufacturing plants in Tompkinsville, Ky., and Fort Mill, S.C. A majority of production was moved to a new manufacturing plant in Mexico.

Davis Furniture shut down its production plant in Houlka, Miss., and moved manufacturing operations to China. 130 employees were laid off. Company owner Lynn Davis told the Associated Press that it was necessary to move production to China in order to stay competitive.

Ethan Allen Interiors closed its 280,000-square-foot Spruce Pine, N.C., manufacturing plant and laid off 340 people. The company also closed its manufacturing facility in Oklahoma, with the loss of an additional 125 jobs.

General Electric stopped manufacturing at one of its oldest plants. The company stopped making rotary appliance switches and fluorescent lamp holders at its Bridgeport, Conn., manufacturing facility, which had been in operation by GE for more than 80 years.

Modine Manufacturing closed its Toledo, Ohio, manufacturing plant. The facility made heating and cooling systems for the automotive industry.

M&S Manufacturing Co., one of the world's largest privately held makers of high-precision machined parts, closed up shop. The Hudson, Mich.-based company was founded in 1941.

Sparton Corp. closed its cable wire harness manufacturing and assembly plant in Deming, N.M.

Littelfuse Manufacturing transferred its semiconductor wafer manufacturing capacity from Irving, Texas, to Wuzi, China, and laid off 180
workers.

Tecumseh Products Co.
closed its engine component manufacturing plant in New Holstein, Wisc.