The Chemical Industry in the United States

Printer-friendly version

The U.S. Chemical Industry

The chemicals industry is one of the United States’ largest manufacturing industries, serving both a sizable domestic market and an expanding global market. It is also one of the top exporting sectors of U.S. manufacturing. Accounting for 15 percent of global chemical shipments, the United States is a world leader in chemicals production and exports.

The industry’s more than 8,000 firms produce more than 70,000 products.test tubes In 2011, the U.S. chemicals industry had sales of $763 billion and directly employed more than 788,000 workers, with additional indirect employment by industry suppliers of more than 2.7 million. With investment of $56 billion in research and development in 2011, and strong enforcement of intellectual property rights, one-fifth of all patents granted in the United States are chemistry-related.

Strong product identification and quality, access to low-cost natural gas, a highly educated workforce, world class research centers, protection for intellectual property, and a robust regulatory system make the United States a competitive home for chemicals firms across the globe.

Industry Subsectors

Basic Chemicals: These include organic and inorganic chemicals, plastic resins, dyes and pigments. Plastic resins, in particular, have experienced significant growth as a replacement for traditional materials in the automotive, construction, and packaging end-use markets.

Specialty Chemicals: These include adhesives and sealants, water treatment chemicals, plastic additives, catalysts and coatings. These chemicals are performance-oriented and typically include customer/technical servicing as an aspect of their sales.

Agricultural Chemicals: These play a crucial role in the farm economy and the food processing sector. Thanks to modern agriculture, farmers have doubled the production of world food supplies since 1960, tripled the output of foods like cooking oils and meats, and increased per capita food supplies in the developing world by 25 percent.

Pharmaceuticals: These include diagnostics, prescription drugs, vaccines, vitamins, and over-the-counter drugs for human and veterinary applications. This subsector also includes biotechnology products.  Strategic investment in companies, facilities, and research and development is especially important for this subsector.

Consumer Products: These include soaps, detergents, and cleaners, as well as toiletries and cosmetics. While consumer products are an established segment of the industry, technological innovation and product development are important due to short product life cycles.

Federal Resources

Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP): MEP helps U.S. firms by providing individually tailored services to help companies improve their productivity, economic competitiveness and technological capabilities. The program leverages money and resources in a cooperative effort with the federal government, state and local authorities, and the private sector. The MEP generates approximately $30 in new sales for every federal dollar invested.

Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO), Department of Energy: Through cost-shared projects, tools, training, and information, the AMO works with a broad spectrum of public-private partners to develop/commercialize technologies and practices that will help U.S. manufacturers succeed in the global marketplace. The Innovative Manufacturing Initiative of the AMO focuses on transformational manufacturing processes and materials with the goal of commercialization in five to seven years. The U.S. chemicals industry accounted for several of the 13 projects awarded a total of $54 million in June 2012 by the Innovative Manufacturing Initiative.

Sources:  U.S. Census Bureau, 2009; American Chemistry Council, Guide to the Business of Chemistry 2012