CPA INSIDER

The cities and states with the most robots

Manufacturing centers see the biggest impact from automation.
by Anslee Wolfe

There's plenty of anxiety over the potential for automation to eliminate jobs, but amid all the hand-wringing, industrial robots are already here. More than 233,300 of them are already in place across the United States, but they are more prevalent in some areas than others. Knowing where automation is happening—and what it's doing—can help financial executives gain a competitive edge in their industries.

The largest clusters of robots are concentrated in the Midwestern and Southern manufacturing states, especially the upper Midwest, according to new analysis by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

"With that said, industrial robots are at work all across the country. Clusters of them exist on the coasts, especially where they help build Teslas in the Bay Area, make semiconductors in Oregon, and produce chemical and rubber products in Texas," said Mark Muro, a senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings.

Brookings looked at where automation may actually displace employees—and where it may not—by examining 2015 data from the International Federation of Robotics that measured the infiltration of robots into U.S. industries and then into metropolitan areas. Brookings defines industrial robots as "automatically controlled, reprogrammable machines" that can replace human labor.

The data, according to Brookings, may help calm widespread fears that robots are infiltrating the U.S. economy on the whole. The numbers show that automation is concentrated only in some areas of the nation, and only in some sectors.

The following states have the largest number of robots:

  • Michigan: 27,600, 12% of the nation's total.
  • Ohio: 20,400, 8.7% of the nation's total.
  • Indiana: 19,400, 8.3% of the nation's total.

The entire West, however, accounts for only 13% of the nation's total of robots.

It's no surprise the largest clusters are in states heavy in manufacturing, one of the industries most susceptible to automation, according to a recent report by McKinsey Global Institute. That's because jobs that have the highest automation potential are physical ones in highly structured and predictable environments.

In fact, the Brookings Institution found that more than half of the nation's industrial robots are in the auto industry. The bots are doing jobs such as painting cars, assembling products, handling materials, and packaging things in 10 Midwestern and Southern states.

Metro areas are ranked based on the number of robots and the number of bots per 1,000 workers. Here is where the highest and lowest concentrations of industrial robots are among the largest 100 U.S. metropolitan areas, followed by the number of bots in 2015 and the number per 1,000 workers:

Areas with the highest concentration of robots

Source: The Brookings Institution.

Areas with the lowest concentration of industrial robots

Source: The Brookings Institution.

Source: The Brookings Institution.

"The least affected states are those with intensely service-oriented economies, such as Florida or Hawaii," Muro said.

The Detroit area not only leads in the number of robots, but also has seen some of the largest growth, according to Brookings. In 2010, the area had 5,753 bots; that number jumped to 15,115 in 2015.

While the Brookings analysis shows the majority of robots are in high manufacturing areas, the industry itself is an example of how new jobs can be created even amid heavy losses.

Between 2004 and 2014, more than 2.1 million U.S. manufacturing jobs were cut, largely due to increased automation, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But as manufacturing jobs became more computer-based than assembly line-based, workers needed more technical skills. This created new jobs for computer programmers and coders, for example, as well as for workers to design and run the machines, according to the BLS.

Although the industry has suffered extensive job loss over the decades, manufacturing as a whole remains a key part of the U.S. economy, said Tatiana Bailey, director of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Economic Forum, a research organization in the school's College of Business.

"The number of jobs has gone down, but it doesn't mean the industry has gone down," she said. "Just because we have more automation doesn't necessarily mean it's a negative thing for the industry as a whole."

Anslee Wolfe is a freelance writer in Colorado Springs, Colo. To comment on this article, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the AICPA.

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