Since manufacturing employment cratered in February 2010, the sector has been slowly and steadily adding jobs. Today, U.S. manufacturing employment stands just under 12 million, a gain of about 500,000 in the ensuing three years.

The growth in manufacturing has prompted some to proclaim a manufacturing renaissance in the United States. That view caught fire in 2011 when the Boston Consulting Group noted the rapid rise in Chinese labor costs and predicted that China would lose its labor wage advantage over the United States in 2015. Later that year, BCG predicted that cheaper energy prices and labor costs would result in a surge of U.S. exports and reshoring. The result: 2.5 million to 5 million jobs by the end of the decade.

american industry manufacturing growthPresident Obama then fanned hopes in his 2012 State of the Union speech when he called manufacturing the foundation of an economy built to last. Obama has set a goal of creating 1 million new manufacturing jobs by the end of his second term. This past January, his SOTU speech again singled out manufacturing's importance to the U.S. economy.

See Also: Global Manufacturing Economy Trends & Analysis

Is the renaissance actually underway? On March 22, Jan Hatzius, an economist with Goldman Sachs, said the evidence for a manufacturing renaissance was "scant so far." 

"The recent strength of U.S. manufacturing output looks squarely cyclical," said Hatzius. "Measured productivity growth has been strong, but U.S. export performance -- arguably a more reliable indicator of competitiveness -- remains middling at best. And at least so far, there is not much evidence for large positive spillovers from the U.S. energy cost advantage to broader manufacturing output."

Alan Tonelson, an economist with the U.S. Business and Industry Council, also worries that the word "renaissance" has been thrown around prematurely. Looking at the February industrial production report from the Federal Reserve, Tonelson said, "American industry is stuck in neutral."

"Overall, manufacturing production is still 3% below its level when the Great Recession began in December 2007 -- despite literally trillions of stimulus dollars poured into the U.S. economy by the Bush and Obama administrations and the Federal Reserve," Tonelson observed.