MIDWEST CITY — For the first time in a decade, manufacturing jobs in Oklahoma are nearly on par with the rest of the nation, a Federal Reserve economist said Wednesday at the 2013 Oklahoma Conference on Manufacturing.
Manufacturing jobs in Oklahoma now make up about 8.5 percent of jobs in the state, compared to 8.9 percent of jobs for the nation as a whole, said Chad Wilkerson, economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and head of the Oklahoma City Fed branch.
One reason manufacturing jobs have grown in the state in recent years is that Oklahoma is exporting more manufactured goods — about a 15 percent year-over-year increase from July 2012 to July 2013, he said.
Aerospace and manufacturing equipment for the energy sector are key to the increase in exports for the state.
Wilkerson said that energy-related manufacturing, such as oil field related parts will continue to boost the state's manufacturing sector for years to come.
“With energy prices such as they are, that energy sector will continue to thrive over the next 10 years,” he said.
Although unemployment in almost every county in the state continues to be lower than the rest of the nation, Oklahoma's economy has slowed somewhat over the past year, in part because of lower natural gas prices
Oklahoma's low unemployment has in fact been something of a problem for manufacturers in the state. Low unemployment in some counties has created a shortage of workers for manufacturing jobs, Wilkerson said.
“There has been somewhat of a slowdown in growth because of a lack of available workers — it's not all for bad reasons,” he said.
Christine Furstoss, senior executive and technical director for manufacturing and materials technologies for General Electric Co., also spoke at the manufacturing conference on Wednesday.
GE announced in April that it plans to build a $110-million research center in Oklahoma that will focus on researching new ways to improve oil and gas extraction. The center will be one of eight such facilities in the world and will employ up to 125 engineers and scientists. A location for the research center has yet to be announced.
Furstoss said at the conference that the research center could benefit manufacturers in Oklahoma as the company moves away from manufacturing products outside of the United States due to rising labor costs in the developing world.
“The benefits of having manufacturing right there where you are doing your design are huge,” Furstoss said.