Food processing and manufacturing companies in Fresno County added more than 1,500 employees between 2014 and 2015, leading the entire U.S. in job growth within the sector for the year, according to an analysis of industry employment figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Headlight Data, a company that specializes in data tools for workforce and economic development professionals, crunched the annual average employment numbers from the bureau’s Census of Employment and Wages, evaluating more than 1,200 counties where the local economy includes food manufacturing.
A significant chunk of Fresno County’s food manufacturing and processing industry, however, is highly seasonal with employment rising and falling throughout the year. Processing of fresh fruits and vegetables for market as well as for packaging in dried, canned or frozen forms thrives during the region’s busy agricultural harvest season but tends to go slack during the offseason. Other food manufacturers such as meat packers, dairy processors or bakeries operate on a year-round basis.
Because of that seasonality, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data is averaged on an annual basis. In 2014, the industry employed 11,318 workers across 133 establishments in Fresno County – the fewest employees in the sector since 2001. By the end of 2015, the number of workers had grown to 12,847, second only to more than 13,000 employees in 2004.
But in neighboring Madera County, the number of food manufacturing businesses fell from 18 in 2014 to 16 last year, according to the federal estimates, translating into a loss of more than 800 jobs. Headlight Data reports that was the second-largest loss of jobs of any county nationwide behind Norfolk County in Massachusetts.
Elsewhere in the Valley, Kings County’s employment growth in the sector ranked in the top 20 percent, growing by 203 employees during the year to an average of 4,233 in 2015. Tulare County had an average of 6,463 employees in food manufacturing businesses last year after only a slight increase of 40 workers – but that was still enough to rank in the top 40 percent of U.S. counties in employment growth.
Coming in behind Fresno County among the top 10 leaders in the sector were McLennan County in Texas, Marshall County in Alabama, New York County in New York, Riverside County in Southern California, Monroe County in New York, Maricopa County in Arizona, Franklin County in Ohio, Kings County in New York and Cook County in Illinois.
Over the past decade, the average weekly wage for workers at food processing and manufacturing businesses in Fresno County grew from $616 in 2005 to $739 last year.