After years of steady decline, manufacturing jobs in Los Angeles County soon may stabilize.

Local manufacturing jobs fled overseas and to other states by the hundreds of thousands over the past two decades while the local industry shifted toward niche and quick-turnaround production. But new projections are providing some hope to those who work in the industry.

The recently released Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.'s 2007 economic forecast projects a loss of just 2,000 manufacturing jobs this year and a loss of only 100 jobs next year.

"It looks like it is starting to taper off," said Jack Kyser, chief economist for Economic Development Corp. "And L.A. County, despite these manufacturing job losses, is still the largest manufacturing area in the U.S."

Various sectors in the local manufacturing industry are stabilizing for different reasons. In the apparel industry, for example, a lot of the jobs that can move offshore have already done so. And many of the more specialized industries, such as biomedical, need highly technical skills that cannot be found as readily offshore. "It sort of insulates them from offshore competition," Kyser said.

Stability, however, may not lead to growth. The economic forecast notes a lack of industrial space could hamper potential growth in manufacturing in the coming years. With a minuscule 1.5 percent countywide vacancy rate for industrial and warehouse space, it's getting tough for companies to find adequate space.

These projections may not seem positive, but for an industry that has lost 145,000 jobs in L.A. County since 2000, it's welcome news to the business community. And with 470,400 manufacturing jobs as of 2005, Los Angeles still stands head and shoulders above other metropolitan manufacturing centers in terms of job numbers.

Chicago, with major food processing and transportation equipment companies, has the second largest manufacturing base, with 396,100 jobs as of 2005. Detroit comes in third, with 284,800 jobs.

Moreover, Los Angeles is not likely to lose its standing as the largest manufacturing center in the United States anytime soon as Chicago and other areas have faced similar declines due to inexpensive offshore competition. "In any major manufacturing center in the U.S. you have this problem of erosion of employment," Kyser said.

Still, the number of manufacturing jobs as a percentage of the overall workforce declined to about 11.5 percent in 2006 from 20 percent in 1990.

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