LA still leads the U.S. in manufacturing jobs

spacex-tesla-from-air-npr.jpgSpaceX and Tesla at Hawthorne Airport. John Francis Peters for NPR

My LA Observed segment on KCRW on Monday used the flight of the last C-17 Globemaster made in Long Beach to talk about the Southern California aerospace legacy, and to make the point that the Los Angeles area is still the biggest manufacturing hub in the United States — and that jobs related to aviation and space are still the number one sector. It's a point that NPR is making in a series that featured a big story Monday called What Gets Made In LA Is Way More Than Movies. Excerpt:

America is still making stuff.

And in terms of jobs, the Los Angeles area is the biggest manufacturing hub in the country. There are a few reasons why. There is plenty of space here to build things like factories and runways. That beautiful California weather? It's actually great for testing planes year-round.

The infrastructure here is also key. The huge ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles let companies quickly ship products to a global market, and get raw materials to build. A massive logistics region just east of Los Angeles, in the Inland Empire, is the first stop before products get on trucks to go across the United States.

And then, of course, there are the people. The huge population base in Southern California is not only a good source of labor, but they also need to buy things, and they provide a built-in market for some manufacturers.

But there are plenty of challenges, and the region has lost tens of thousands of jobs over the past several years.

The story comes from Sonari Glinton and Shereen Marisol Meraji at NPR West in Culver City, with "Morning Edition" host David Greene. There are graphics showing that the Los Angeles area leads the Chicago area by a lot as the top manufacturing region in the country, and this one breaking down in which fields the jobs are in SoCal.


A companion piece including "All Things Considered" host Kelly McEvers in Culver City looks at jobs in the fashion industry in Los Angeles, with photos inside local garment factories by John Francis Peters for NPR. Sample:

The fashion industry here has been bleeding jobs for years. A lot of low-end work has moved overseas. Decades ago, you could work here and raise a family — getting paid per garment — even though it was difficult work.

Back in the 1980s, when business was booming, Esperanza Monterrosa came to LA from El Salvador. She raised four kids on income she earned sewing pieces at home. She told NPR last year that her manager would drop off the material to sew along with diapers for her kids so that she wouldn't have to leave the house.

By the mid-'90s, the garment industry was changing, and some big factories closed and sent work overseas. Economists say that when factories go overseas, it forces wages for unskilled work down. While the garment industry has helped keep LA as a manufacturing city for longer than other American cities, economists agree this industry is not the way of the future.

One bright spot here has been high-end denim. A lot of $30 jeans are made in Mexico or China, but designer jeans almost always come from LA. That's because hot trends come and go — and designers can't really send stuff abroad and wait for it to come back. They're still using the talent and expertise here in LA.

crinkling-jeans-npr.jpgJohn Francis Peters for NPR

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