Employment in the sector hasn't returned to the highs of the early '90s, but it's back to pre-recession levels, said Chuck Prucha, president of the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance.
State manufacturers, Prucha said, have learned to work leaner and smarter, using robotics, numeric-controlled equipment and other technologies. Moreover, many manufacturers, who may have moved production to China and elsewhere overseas, have brought back production because, among other things, a significant difference in product quality and the high cost of fuel.
“Just the costs of transportation to and from can add more costs than expected,” said Prucha, who for 25 years owned an Oklahoma machinery manufacturing company that moved production to Mexico and back.
As of August, the manufacturing sector accounted for 8.6 percent of the state's employment, with about 137,400 employees, said Lynn Gray, an economist with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.
“Manufacturing is an industry that is a significant driver in our jobs recovery,” Gray said. Since the recession low in January 2010, the sector has added 20.4 percent of the new jobs, or 16,300 of 79,900.
During the past 12 months alone, Oklahoma's manufacturing industry has gained 7,700 jobs or 5.9 percent, compared with a 2.9 percent jobs gain for the state as a whole, Gray said.