LIVONIA, Mich. – A recovering U.S. auto industry should add more than 150,000 new jobs by 2015, and most of them will be located in hard-hit Michigan.
Analysts from the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor said Tuesday that gains sales and market share, as well as savings reaped from recently concluded UAW contract negotiations, will allow Detroit’s automakers to expand their workforces. The Big Three are projected to add approximately 30,000 new jobs over the next three years.
But that’s a relatively small share of the overall projected industry growth. Suppliers are expected to account for the bulk of the increase across the country. Estimates say the auto industry employs 590,000 today and will employ 756,800 in 2015, a 28.2 percent increase. That year, sales of light vehicles are expected to hit 15.5 million units.
“They’re going to grow,” said Kristin Dziczek, assistant research director at CAR. “They’re going to have to.”
Managing that growth is trickier than it may appear. Automakers are fearful that suppliers have promised more capacity than they can actually deliver as demand grows. Many suppliers have been reluctant to ratchet up operations in case the boom never arrives.
At best, the forecast growth will be uneven.
Dave Andrea, senior vice president of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association, said some of the top suppliers are operating at 90 percent of their manufacturing capacity and cannot add more production without adding workers. Sean McAlinden, chief economist for CAR, said automakers are already seeing shortages in areas such as integrated stamping and casting.
But other suppliers are running closer to 70 percent and see the current market as unsteady.
“This is where the complexity of the industry and working with suppliers is,” he said. “They have so many question marks, that they’re really balancing, particularly through 2011. So we haven’t really had the luxury of a steady climb.”
If and when the job boom materializes, these experts say Michigan will be the major beneficiary.
Nearly all the job growth from the Detroit automakers will take place in the state, which already is home to two-thirds of the three companies’ 171,742 U.S. employees. The Big Three are expected to add 33,000 jobs in the state, according to CAR, and should have a Michigan workforce of 135,000 by the end of 2015.
The new hires are expected to be comprised of hourly and salary workers, while forecasters see a dip of about 4,000 skilled-trade workers ahead.
More broadly, many more of the 150,000 jobs added by suppliers should occur in Michigan, although CAR experts did not pinpoint a specific number. “We’re definitely seeing a concentration in Michigan,” Dziczek said.
The news is good for a state pummeled by the recession. Michigan’s unemployment rate reached 14.1 percent in August 2009.
But the news is also bittersweet. In 1999, the state employed 316,000 in motor vehicle and manufacturing. Now, it’s 73,700.
And the three Detroit automakers employed more than 1 million across the country in their peak year of 1978. Even with the growth projections over the next three years, they’ll employ less than 200,000.