Buoyed by a strong automotive sector, the Columbus metro area in the past two years has gained jobs at a faster pace than any other of the nation’s 366 metropolitan areas.
Local employers added 7,300 jobs in the two years before November, a growth rate of nearly 17 percent, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only seven of the nation’s metro areas had a growth rate exceeding 10 percent. The top 7 included one other Indiana metro: Elkhart-Goshen.
In the 12 months before November, the growth rate of the Columbus metro, at 7.25 percent, ranked third in the nation, behind Lafayette, La., and Elkhart-Goshen.
“Columbus is a richer hub of opportunities for employment, education, health and well being, retailing, and arts and culture than the surrounding areas,” said Michael J. Oakes, MBA director and senior lecturer in finance at IUPUC.
“It has all of those attributes and is close to Indianapolis. That’s a nice package,” Oakes said.
Top 10 employers
Columbus’ top 10 private employers (by number of employees).
1. Cummins: 7,836
2. Columbus Regional Hospital: 1,628.
3. Faurecia: 1,600
4. NTN Driveshaft: 1,363.
5. Enkei America: 839.
6. Dorel Juvenile Group: 807.
7. Wal-Mart: 748.
8. Toyota Industrial Equipment Manuf.: 618.
9. Columbus Container: 270.
10. Rightway Fasteners: 259.
Sources: Columbus Economic Development Board, survey from June; Faurecia.
“Increasingly, prospective employees of all kinds are looking at a broad lifestyle package instead of just the job,” he said. “But this is especially true of young professionals — exactly the types Cummins has been bringing in, for example.”
New hires at Cummins accounted for much of the job growth the city has seen in the past two years.
Cummins Inc., by far the area’s largest employer, has added about 2,000 jobs since late 2010, primarily high-wage professional jobs, including engineers.
In fall 2011, Cummins said it would hire an additional 600 professional employees and place them in a new downtown Columbus office complex.
The company reported record revenues of $18 billion last year, and this year’s revenues are projected to be near $17 billion, the second-highest in company history.
Early this year the company thought it would match last year’s record, but global uncertainties prompted first a hiring freeze and then a global workforce reduction of 1,500, of which about 150 were expected to occur in Columbus.
Nonetheless, the company has more employees in southern Indiana now than at the beginning of the year.
Other local manufacturers in the auto segment are also among the leaders in workforce growth.
n Child safety seat maker Dorel Juvenile Group, which employs about 825 in Columbus, is adding about 100 employees this quarter and expects them to remain at least through the first quarter of 2013.
n Auto parts maker Faurecia has added 450 jobs in the county since acquiring Emcon Technologies in 2010. The Paris, France-based company employs about 1,600 at its plant on Gladstone Avenue and its emissions technology campus on County Road 450S.
n Sunright America, which produces metal fasteners such as hex nuts at its plant in Woodside Industrial Park, just completed a $10 million expansion and plans to boost its current full-time workforce of 126 by another 100 within the next two years.
n Automotive supplier NTN Driveshaft announced this year that it would invest $18 million in its local plant near Walesboro and hire an additional 50 employees before the year’s end.
n Industrial gearbox maker Master Power Transmission said in September that it would invest $3.6 million in its plant on 10th Street and create about 50 new jobs in the next few years.
“Faurecia’s employment levels in Columbus remain steady as the auto industry and the North American economy continue their recovery,” said Mark Stidham, president of Faurecia Emissions Control Technology North America.
“Customer demand has been strong with a number of programs also in development. Faurecia Emissions Control Technologies is proud to supply some of the most exciting vehicles on the market, including new introductions, such as the new Ford Fusion, which just won Green Car of the Year at the LA Auto Show, the Cadillac ATS and the VW Beetle.”
LHP Software now employs about 230, up about 30 from September 2011, said Marketing Director John Greenwell.
“We have been successful in broadening our revenue base while expanding geographically,” Greenwell said. “That diversification positions us well for reaching our targeted revenue growth over the next three to five years and will help drive the creation of additional jobs at LHP.”
Oakes said new manufacturing jobs typically result in additional jobs with suppliers and sectors that support newcomers, including shops and restaurants.
“The Bureau of Economic Analysis gives manufacturing jobs an employment multiplier of around 1.8,” Oakes said. “That means 2,000 announced new positions potentially result in a total employment lift of 3,600.
Throughout the year, the Columbus area has gained a MainSource Bank branch; new restaurants, including Vietnamese/Japanese eatery PhoShiki; retailers including Sidekick Comics and the Shoe Doctor. Existing businesses have expanded: For example, both Zwanzigz and Simmons Winery added a brewery.
In the year’s second half, as the country stumbled toward the presidential election and closer to the fiscal cliff, some unpleasant local economic news also appeared:
n Cummins announced a workforce reduction of 1,500 globally and 150 locally.
n Twinkies maker Hostess shut down all its production plants, including the local Dolly Madison bakery, which had employed more than 200.
n About 50 local professional jobs were eliminated in Old National Bancorp’s acquisition of Columbus-based Indiana Community Bancorp.
Those late-developing local job reductions are not included in the two-year net gain of 7,300 jobs. If they were, however, the Columbus metro area’s growth rate would still be among the leaders in the nation.