10/6/16: Wither Manufacturing? Evidence from Denmark

Couple of posts relating to most current research on the recovery and longer term prospects in global manufacturing. As usual here, we shall focus on the advanced economies.

A recent NBER paper, by Andrew Bernard, Valerie Smeets, and Frederic Warzynski, titled “Rethinking Deindustrialization” (March 2016, NBER Working Paper No. w22114: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2755386) looked at decline in manufacturing activity in Denmark, showing that “manufacturing employment and the number of firms have been shrinking as a share of the total and in absolute levels.” The authors examine this phenomena over the period of 1994 to 2007.

“While most of the decline can be attributed to firm exit and reduced employment at surviving manufacturers, we document that a non-negligible portion is due to firms switching industries, from manufacturing to services.”

Here is an interesting list of related findings based on looking closer at the “last group of firms before, during, and after their sector switch”:

  • “Overall this is a group of small, highly productive, import intensive firms that grow rapidly in terms of value-added and sales after they switch.”
  • “By 2007, employment at these former manufacturers equals 8.7 percent of manufacturing employment, accounting for half the decline in manufacturing employment.”
  • “…we identify two types of switchers: one group resembles traditional wholesalers and another group that retains and expands their R&D and technical capabilities.”

Net result? Quite surprising conclusion that the “findings emphasize that the focus on employment at manufacturing firms overstates the loss in manufacturing-related capabilities that are actually retained in many firms that switch industries.”