Alabamas manufacturing employment dropped 2 percent over the past 12 months, according to the 2007 Alabama Manufacturers Register, a manufacturers directory published annually by Manufacturers News Inc. MNI reports Alabama lost 7,380 manufacturing jobs and 175 plants since March 2006.

This is a trend weve seen in other states, said MNI president Thomas Dubin. Although manufacturing output is at record highs, industrial employment is stagnant or declining. This is partly the result of outsourcing, mergers and consolidation, but the nature of todays manufacturing also plays an important role. Fewer employees are needed due to automation and technology; instead of four assembly line workers, now you may have just one controlling the manufacturing process through a computer.

Northeast Alabama accounts for the most manufacturing activity, with 52 percent (or 181,485) of the states jobs, with nearly half of these centered in Jefferson and Madison Counties. A total of 19.5 percent (or 70,422) of Alabamas industrial jobs are located in Southeast Alabama, while Northwest and Southwest Alabama account for 15.2 percent and 13.4 percent, respectively.

MNI data shows the Eastern half of the state lost the largest percentage of manufacturing jobs, with Northeast Alabama down 2.7 percent from last year and the Southeast down 2.8 percent. Southwest Alabama was down 1,111 jobs, or 2.3 percent, while the Northwest saw a net gain of 406 jobs.

Plant closings in Eastern Alabama include Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation, an Ozark-based sewing plant that employed 500. Dale County manufacturing jobs decreased 16.3 percent as a result. Avondale Mills Inc., another textile manufacturer, closed its Sylacauga plant in 2006.

Manufacturers News reports Alabama is home to 6,331 manufacturers employing 350,416 workers. MNI surveys both large and small manufacturers, including small start-up companies with just a few employees.

MNIs regional analysis shows Alabama ranks 22nd in the nation for manufacturing plants, but 19th in the U.S. for manufacturing jobs. This may be due to a greater number of large manufacturers operating in the state. MNIs latest survey shows 3.4 percent of Alabamas manufacturers employ 250 to 500 employees, compared to the national average of 2.2 percent.

Alabama ranks fifth in the Southeast for manufacturing plants, and fourth for industrial jobs accounting for 8.6 percent of the regions manufacturers and 9.7 percent of the regions jobs. Alabamas 2 percent employment loss echoes that seen in other Southeastern states, with Florida losing 1 percent of its manufacturing employment and Mississippi losing 2.5 percent, according to earlier reports by MNI.

Birmingham is Alabamas top industrial employer accounting for 11.5 percent of the states manufacturing employment or 40,528 jobs, and is home to 705 plants. MNI reports Birmingham ranks among the top 40 cities in the U.S. by manufacturing employment, ranking 38th in the nation and seventh in the Southeast by number of industrial jobs. Huntsville is the states second-largest industrial employer, accounting for 27,410 manufacturing jobs, or 7.8 percent, of the state and ranks 15th in the Southeast for manufacturing jobs. Montgomery ranks third with 14,923 jobs, while Mobile and Decatur rank fourth and fifth with 14,254 jobs and 12,429 jobs, respectively.

According to the 2007 edition, industrial machinery and equipment is the Alabamas largest industrial sector by number of plants, accounting for 809 manufacturers, down 2.9 percent from last year and 8.7 percent from five years ago. Poultry slaughtering and processing is the states largest sector by employment, accounting for 19,221 jobs or 5.5 percent of the state total.