U.S. factories show luster with bullish November hiring

Fri Dec 5, 2014 4:19pm EST
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By Jason Lange

(Reuters) - While the acceleration in U.S. hiring last month was surprisingly sharp and broad-based, a sector that has had a particularly rough 21st century - manufacturing - offered one of the brightest signals.

U.S. factories added 28,000 jobs in November, the most in a year, according to government data released on Friday. Manufacturers also raised the average work week for their production workers to 42.2 hours, returning to levels reached earlier in 2014 that were the highest since the end of World War Two.

"We are definitely in growth mode," said Lee Eilers, the chief executive at Marion Mixers, an Iowa maker of giant mixing machines used in the production of everything from pancake mix to dishwasher soap.

The firm has added three welders this year, bringing its head count to 44, and Eilers plans to hire six more people in 2015, although he said there are enough available workers in Marion, Iowa, that he doesn't have to pay signing bonuses.

After hemorrhaging hundreds of thousands of jobs during the first decade of this century, the U.S. factory sector is now an example of America's economic upswing even as a slowing global economy and a stronger dollar clouds the outlook for exporters.

Employers added 321,000 workers to their payrolls last month, with strong gains in most sectors, from construction and retail to finance.

In manufacturing, the rise in hours worked was particularly illustrative because it could signal further hiring ahead for a sector that has added about 700,000 jobs over the last five years but that remains 5 million jobs in the hole in the 21st century.

"Manufacturers are getting just about all they can out of their current workforce," said Russell Price, an economist at Ameriprise Financial in Troy, Michigan. "As long as they see new orders come in the door, they’re going to have to hire more employees to satisfy those orders."   Continued...

Robotic arms spot welds on the chassis of a Ford Transit Van under assembly at the Ford Claycomo Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Missouri April 30, 2014.  REUTERS/Dave Kaup