Written and compiled by CompanyWeek


U.S. manufacturing employment continues to be surprisingly resilient even as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) warns of impending job losses.

In 2018, only three states saw a net year-over-year decline of manufacturing jobs: Alaska, Hawaii, and New York. Total U.S. manufacturing employment reached a 10-year high, with 12.6 million Americans working in manufacturing.

Colorado’s manufacturing sector continues to perform above national employment averages. The CU Leeds 2020 Business Economic Outlook reports that manufacturing employment grew 2.3 percent in 2018 — 23rd nationally. The state ranks 10th nationally in manufacturing employment growth the past decade, 11th over the past five years, and 15th the past three.

Growth industries significantly outnumber laggards in Colorado’s sector. Its food and beverage sector is a national star, alongside high-tech machinery and transportation sectors that combine to give the state a nationally competitive manufacturing ecosystem.

In November 2019, Colorado cities like Denver and Fort Collins enjoyed 10-year high-water marks in manufacturing employment, even as BLS data showed that manufacturing employment in the Pittsburgh metro area had dropped below 7 percent, “its lowest point in the modern era, and possibly ever.”

Colorado’s employment growth in manufacturing is expected to slow to under 2 percent in the final 2019 analysis and 1 percent in 2020.


In the national context, total U.S. manufacturing employment was 12.6 million in 2018, forecast to grow to around 13 million jobs in 2019, and remain the same in 2020. From there, BLS forecasts a steep retreat to 12 million jobs by 2028.

Colorado manufacturers employed 147,285 people in 2018, middle of the pack relative to its national counterparts: 28 states employ more people in manufacturing, led by California (1,320,068), Texas (879,509), Ohio (698,950), Michigan (627,7510), and Pennsylvania (569,811).

Manufacturing in Colorado was a $25.1 billion industry in 2018, representing about 6.8 percent of the state’s nominal GDP despite the sector comprising just 5.4 percent of the state’s nonfarm employment base.

Eleven states posted net manufacturing employment gains the past 10 years. Colorado is 10th on that list:

  1. Nevada 1.42% employment gain

  2. Michigan 0.87%

  3. Idaho 0.75%

  4. Utah 0.56%

  5. Indiana 0.39%

  6. South Carolina 0.31%

  7. South Dakota 0.4%

  8. Kentucky 0.25%

  9. Montana 0.33%

  10. Colorado 0.21%

  11. Florida 0.02%

States with the biggest manufacturing job losses the past 10 years are:

  1. New Mexico -2.52%

  2. New Jersey -1.92%

  3. New York -1.85%

The CU Leeds 2020 Business Economic Outlook forecasts projects manufacturing employment in Colorado to increase 1.8 percent to 149,900 employees in 2019 and 1 percent to 151,300 in 2020.

What’s driving growth in Colorado?

Against a volatile national backdrop, Colorado’s manufacturing sector is benefitting from a dynamic mix of high-growth industries, notes Brian Lewandowski of the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business:

“We have a higher concentration of manufacturing activity in sectors that are growing nationally and a lower concentration in sectors that are losing jobs (i.e., it is all about our mix of manufacturing). Nonetheless, seven of Colorado’s 21 manufacturing subsectors lost jobs in 2018, but those seven subsectors only represent 16.6 percent of Colorado’s manufacturing industry.”

Colorado’s high-flying natural and organic food sector is a center of industry innovation that today is also feeding regional manufacturing employment. Food is Colorado’s largest manufacturing employer and continues to trend upward here, growing 2.2 percent in 2018, industry growth the ranks 13th nationally.

Moreover, food’s first cousin, the beverage sector, is the state’s fastest growing manufacturing industry. The popularity of food and beverage brands and products portend further growth in 2019 and 2020.

Largest employment sectors in Colorado manufacturing, 2018 (total employees):

  1. Food 23,335

  2. Computer and electronic product manufacturing 22,381

  3. Fabricated metal product manufacturing 15,235

  4. Machinery manufacturing 12,552

  5. Transportation equipment manufacturing 10,051

  6. Beverage and tobacco product manufacturing 8,669

  7. Nonmetallic mineral product manufacturing 8,605

  8. Chemical manufacturing 7,608

  9. Plastics and rubber products manufacturing 5,792

  10. Furniture and related product manufacturing 5,678

Four of the top five manufacturing employment sectors in Colorado are trending up:

Top Gainers (total jobs added in 2018):

  1. Chemical manufacturing +733 jobs

  2. Machinery manufacturing +546

  3. Fabricated metal product manufacturing +543

  4. Computer and electronic product manufacturing +515

  5. Food manufacturing +505

Top Gainers (% employment gain in 2018, excludes sectors with less than 50 jobs):

  1. Chemical manufacturing +10.7% (6th fastest growing sector nationally)

  2. Primary metal manufacturing +5.46% (12th nationally)

  3. Machinery manufacturing +4.5% (19th nationally)

  4. Beverage manufacturing + 4.1% (31st nationally)

  5. Food manufacturing +2.2% (13th nationally)

Sectors that are losing jobs appear to be on the wrong side of broad trends that weigh on manufacturing employment here and nationally:

Top Losers (% loss in 2018):

  1. Apparel manufacturing (-18.9%)

  2. Printing and related activities (-3.5%)

  3. Textile products (-2.4%)

  4. Leather/related product manufacturing (-1.6%)

  5. Paper manufacturing (-1%)


The CU Leeds 2020 Business Economic Outlook forecasts manufacturing employment in Colorado to slow to just under 2% percent in 2019 and 1% 2020, consistent with national BLS projections that envision slowing national employment.

Colorado’s industry mix is arguably a model for growth: consumer-driven food and beverage production alongside high-tech machinery, equipment, and transportation manufacturing in high-profile industries like aerospace. It’s a formula that also seems well suited to capture the imagination of a new generation of employees, a bonus in today’s competitive workplace.

Colorado’s cannabis industry is a wild card. Today neither the BLS nor the Business Economic Outlook measure cannabis employment seperately. But it’s a certainty that the state is a manufacturing epicenter for cannabis, with current employment likely moving the needle in food and chemical manufacturing.

CompanyWeek is a content contributor for the 55th annual University of Colorado Leeds Business School Colorado Business Economic Outlook. The 2020 edition, released December 9, provides a definitive look at final 2018 employment and economic activity, projects final numbers in 2019, and forecasts for 2020. The Business Outlook’s manufacturing section is the basis for much of the preceding data.