Rocky Mount was named in a recent study as the third-highest city in the United States where manufacturing is thriving.
“Manufacturing is a really important part of the American economy,” said Adrian Mak, co-founder of AdvisorSmith, the company that published the study. “I think that you hear that manufacturing in a lot of places is dying in the United States. So we wanted to highlight some places that manufacturing is really doing well — and Rocky Mount was one of those places.”
The company looked at 318 metropolitan areas in the United States, including data from 2014-18. Statistics were collected from publicly available sources, such as the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Cities were divided by population size as small (less than 150,000), midsize (between 150,000 and 500,000) and large (over 500,000).
The city ranked No. 2 on the list of small cities only, and No. 3 overall.
The study looked at four major factors to measure the level of manufacturing activity in a metropolitan area: the growth rate of manufacturing output, manufacturing output per capita, manufacturing jobs per capita and the growth rate of manufacturing jobs.
Rocky Mount’s growth rate over the five years was 11.8 percent. According to North Carolina’s annual economics report, manufacturing made up 10.8 percent of jobs in the state in 2018, up 1.6 percent from the year before. Manufacturing output, or the amount of money made by manufacturing businesses, was over $6 million in 2018 — that translates to about $42,270.58 per person, or per capita. That is about six times the national average of about $7,000 per person.
The location quotient, or manufacturing jobs per capita, was 2.1; the higher the location quotient, the more likely it is that a randomly selected job will be a manufacturing job. For example, if a city has 100 jobs and a location quotient of 2, then 20 of those jobs would be manufacturing jobs.
The growth rate of manufacturing jobs in Rocky Mount shrank by 1 percent over the course of the study.
“One of the most important trends that we saw is that output is growing faster than manufacturing employment,” Mak said. “That means we’re producing more, but not necessarily having as many people as the growth in production.”
He added that for manufacturing workers, he believes that people trained in a range of skills and advanced types of machinery are seeing the most benefit and the most demand.
Seven engineering and manufacturing programs are offered at Nash Community College. Gary Blackburn, department chairman of the industrial manufacturing technologies department, said about 90 percent of the graduates from the manufacturing programs stay in the Rocky Mount area to work.
“We have a bigger need for graduates than we have graduates,” Blackburn said. “Several companies have started doing internships with students, sponsoring them through college and having them work part-time until they graduate.”
Mayor Sandy Roberson said he believes that part of the reason Rocky Mount has grown such a culture of manufacturing is the convenient location. Placed at the center of the Eastern Seaboard, the city has direct access to five major seaports, is located directly on a major interstate and has a large railroad network.
“Manufacturing is and always has been a major part of our economy in Rocky Mount,” Roberson said. “With companies like Cummins doing so well in the area, there is no reason why we should not be doing more on this front and attracting outside companies in and supplying them with a workforce of our own.”