Los Angeles Apparel Industry Could Grow With Hi-Tech Fabrics and Other Innovations

During the last decade, the number of people working in California’s apparel and textile manufacturing industry has shrunk some 43 percent as production of clothing and textiles has moved overseas.

Overall, manufacturing employment in California continues to shrink. But a recent manufacturing report prepared by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. suggests that the apparel industry could grow by producing more clothing that incorporates high-tech elements used in sportswear and athletic wear to monitor physical behavior, such as heart rate or blood pressure.

“I think that is what is going to happen,” said Christine Cooper, who leads the LAEDC’s Institute for Applied Economics, which wrote the report, released on July 15, called “California’s Manufacturing Industries: Employment and Competitiveness in the 21st Century.” “Technology is coming out that embeds sensors in the fabric itself so you can monitor your own biometric responses.”

Even though the apparel and textile industry keeps shrinking, it is still a major contributor to California’s manufacturing economy. Nearly 80,000 people were employed in this sector in 2012, with 90 percent of them working in Southern California. That is down from 2002, when nearly 138,000 people were working in this industry, the report said.

The Los Angeles area continues to have the highest concentration of apparel workers in the United States.

Production of computers and electronic products employs the largest number of people, at 270,276, or 22 percent of the state’s manufacturing industry. Coming in second in total manufacturing employment is the food industry. Despite criticisms that California is unfriendly to business, the state is the No. 1 manufacturing center in the United States. In 2012, it accounted for 11.4 percent of the nation’s manufacturing gross domestic product. Texas follows closely behind at No. 2, contributing 10 percent.

Still, the state’s manufacturing sector accounts for only about 11 percent of the goods and services produced in California. The service industry is the overwhelming winner, making up 70 percent of all the state’s goods and services. “Our contribution to the country’s manufacturing value and the GDP will continue to be high and remain at No. 1 because we do focus on a wide variety of industries. There is aerospace, biochemical goods, semi-conductors and electronic components,” Cooper said.

Other data from the report include:

Manufacturing is 10.7 percent of the state’s economic product.

Between 1990 and 2012, California lost 842,180 manufacturing jobs, or 40 percent of all manufacturing jobs.

The loss of durable manufacturing jobs in the early 1990s was largely a result of reductions in national defense spending. But the largest declines were in non-durable manufacturing, such as apparel, because of California’s high labor costs and proximity to Asian factories.

In 2012, services accounted for almost 70 percent of California’s employment, with government making up 15 percent and goods-producing industries (such as mining, construction, natural resources and manufacturing) accounting for 15.2 percent of all employment.

Manufacturing output has continued to climb while employment continues to fall.