California's Metalworking Industry is Leader in Technology, Environmental Consciousness

May 21, 2014
California's metalworking industry is a technology and environmental leader but faces high state costs and stiff competition from China.

The California Metals Coalition (CMC) held their 41st annual meeting in Anaheim on May 8-9th, 2013. Over 150 business leaders from metalworking companies and the industry’s service providers attended the meeting. The California Metals Coalition membership is a diverse representation of the state's metals industry. Membership in CMC is corporate, and the employees of each facility are individual members of the organization. The member companies are small businesses ─ the average number of employees per company is only 50, so without an organization to be the voice and advocate for the metalworking industry in California, these companies and this industry would have no influence on statewide policies affecting them.

California’s metalworking industry began when metalworking facilities were established in1848 to manufacture the tools that led to the start of the gold rush and birth of our state in 1850. Today, California is home to 6,100 metalworking facilities, employing approximately 213,500 Californians, providing high-paying manufacturing jobs, health benefits and a solid economic foundation to the Golden State.  This level of employment represents 18% of California’s 1.2 million manufacturing jobs. This industry generates $12.2 billion in goods and services and $7.9 billion in wages for the economy.

The types of services provided  by member companies includes: sand, permanent mold, investment, rubber/plaster mold, and die casting, machining, forging, metal fabrication and welding, metal stamping, metal finishing, metal raw materials, metal recycling, and tools and dies. 

According to CMC data, in the metalworking industry, 8 out of 10 employees are considered ethnic minorities or reside in communities of concern. Living-wage employment for this diverse workforce can be found in working-class communities throughout the state because the average full-time hourly wage is $18.00 (not including benefits) or $37,000 per year. Jobs provided by this industry are the path to the middle class for many Californians.

What do these companies make? Metal manufacturers make the parts that go into solar panels, electric cars, medical devices, airplanes, unmanned vehicles, ships for the Navy and private companies, products for the military and defense industry, and thousands of other applications. Metalworking products and services are a direct reflection of the innovation and hard work put forth by California's workforce and business owners.

Californians discard enough aluminum each day to build five Boeing 737 jets, and California metalworking companies recycle millions of tons of discarded metal each year. Metal is recycled and used as the primary material source to build components that fly our planes, housings that spin renewable-energy windmills, medical devices that keep our families safe, and defense items used by our troops. California metalworking companies recycle about 1,830,000 tons of metal per year, and every ton of waste that is recycled rather than disposed in landfill produces $275 more in goods and services.

The keynote speaker of the conference was Jerome Horton, chairman of the Board of Equalization, who acknowledged the importance of this industry to the economy of California by mentioning some of the above data. He said that the BOE is helping California companies grow and had worked with the California Metals Coalition and other organizations to obtain the new manufacturers exemption tax credit that was signed into law by Governor Brown as part of Assembly Bill 93 and Senate Bill 90. This exemption will become effective July 1, 2014 and expires on July 1, 2022. It applies to specified NAICS codes, applicable to the whole metalworking industry and has a $200 million limitation. Tax-exempt property must be used 50% or more in one of the following activities:

  • Manufacturing, processing, refining, fabrication, or recycling tangible property
  • Research and development
  • Maintaining, repairing, measuring, or testing any qualified property
  • As a special purpose building and/or foundation

The BOE expanded the meaning of this tax credit to apply to tooling, whether it is retained or sold. Tooling must be either manufacturing by a company or purchased, be used in the manufacturing process, and have a life of over one year.

He also outlined the benefits of the new employee hiring credit that replaces the tax credits offered by Enterprise Zones that have been eliminated. This tax credit is based on wages of $12-$28/hour. There is a maximum of $56,000 per employee over five years, and the credit is equal to 35% each year.

The BOE has a much larger reserve than they need and are starting to refund monies to California companies. Last year the sales tax revenue increased from $52 billion to $56 billion, which helped enable the state budget to be balanced, but the state still has $300 billion in debt.

9th Largest Economy Lagging in Job Growth

Kimberly Ritter-Martinez, chief economist for the Kyser Center for Economic Research at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation was the next speaker. She provided an overview and comparison of the national economy and the state economy. If California were a country, it would be the 9th largest economy measured by Gross Regional Product in the world. However, California is lagging the national average in creating jobs, so that the unemployment rate in March was 8.1% compared to 6.7% nationwide. Jobs in durable goods manufacturing only increased by 0.8% for the state. She predicted 2.4% growth in the state GRG in 2014, and 2.9% in 2015.

Although California is losing businesses to other states, the LAEDC has helped companies such as Space X and American Apparel stay in California.

Jack Broadbent, executive office of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said the district was established in 1955, includes 9 counties with a population of 7 million, and covers 5,540 square miles. The purpose of the Bay Area District was to improve air quality by reducing particulate matter, noxious odors, visible emissions, and future emissions. The California Air Pollution Control Officers Association (CAPCOA) was formed to coordinate the rules of many local and statewide agencies involved in air quality.

In 2013, two new rules were adopted after extensive consultation with industry and other stakeholders. Rule 12-13 applies to foundries and forges, and Rule 6-4 applies to metal recycling operations. The Bay Area District led the state in creating an Emissions Minimization Plan to focus on fugitive emissions by reducing particulate matter, toxics, and odors. It incorporates continuous improvement via on-going facility assessments and plan updates. All the draft plans have been received, and the next step will be a determination of district completeness, a public review period, district review and approval, followed by facility implementation.

In the Q & A period, I asked if the air pollution being transported by the trade winds from China is being taken into consideration, and he said that they have had to adjust the base of the ambient air quality because of the transported pollution. He has been to China five times in the past three years, and he said that China’s particulate matter in their air is more than 10 times the U. S. standard.

Brian Johnson, deputy director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) was the next speaker. He briefly described the Hazardous Waste Management program and the new Policy and Program Support Division that was formed after restructuring last year. The metalworking industry is getting a great deal of attention by the legislature, regulators, and the community around specific metals sites. A Hazardous Waste Reduction Initiative was introduced into the legislature last year, and a Safer Emissions Products Initiative is on the horizon. The Department is using 17 categories of pollution burden data of Census Track ratings to prioritize their response to community complaints for specific metals sites. 

The next topic was workmen’s compensation insurance, and State Senator Ted Gaines (R) who is a candidate for Insurance Commissioner described how his long experience as an insurance agent would be beneficial to working with the metalworking industry to improve this insurance program. A panel of five members of CMC shared their experiences with regard to this issue. Of note, is the fact that California has some of the highest workmen’s compensation rates of any other state for certain industries. For example, the California rate for die casting companies is 5 times the rate in Mississippi.

The issues discussed at this conference demonstrate why the metalworking industry is challenged in doing business in California. However, many of these companies, especially foundries and forgers, cannot easily pick up stakes and move to other states. The high cost of doing business in California has resulted in more companies going out of business rather than moving to another state.

Adding to these challenges has been the fierce competition this industry has experienced from China in the past decade. CMC Executive Director, James Simonelli, told me that in the year 2000, the industry had about 325,000 employees. This means that the current employment of 213,500 is 40% less than it was 14 years ago. The good news is that all of the attendees to whom I spoke were experiencing some “reshoring” of parts coming back from China.

When compared to manufacturing facilities around the world, California is the place to find the most technologically advanced, and environmentally conscious metal manufacturers. California's metalworking industry is arguably the world's leader for efficient, clean, and safe metal manufacturing.

About the Author

Michele Nash-Hoff Blog | President

Michele Nash-Hoff has been in and out of San Diego’s high-tech manufacturing industry since starting as an engineering secretary at age 18. Her career includes being part of the founding team of two startup companies. She took a hiatus from working full-time to attend college and graduated from San Diego State University in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in French and Spanish.

After graduating, she became vice president of a sales agency covering 11 of the western states. In 1985, Michele left the company to form her own sales agency, ElectroFab Sales, to work with companies to help them select the right manufacturing processes for their new and existing products.

Michele is the author of four books, For Profit Business Incubators, published in 1998 by the National Business Incubation Association, two editions of Can American Manufacturing be Saved? Why we should and how we can (2009 and 2012), and Rebuild Manufacturing – the key to American Prosperity (2017).

Michele has been president of the San Diego Electronics Network, the San Diego Chapter of the Electronics Representatives Association, and The High Technology Foundation, as well as several professional and non-profit organizations. She is an active member of the Soroptimist International of San Diego club.

Michele is currently a director on the board of the San Diego Inventors Forum. She is also Chair of the California chapter of the Coalition for a Prosperous America and a mentor for CONNECT’s Springboard program for startup companies.

She has a certificate in Total Quality Management and is a 1994 graduate of San Diego’s leadership program (LEAD San Diego.) She earned a Certificate in Lean Six Sigma in 2014.

Michele is married to Michael Hoff and has raised two sons and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her two grandsons and eight granddaughters. Her favorite leisure activities are hiking in the mountains, swimming, gardening, reading and taking tap dance lessons.

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