The Biggest Industry In Each County In America

We used the most recent Census data to compile the most common industry in each of America's 3,100 counties.

Chris Kolmar

What industry would you think blankets America?


With all the news about it, you might think it's the biggest part of the economy, but the manufacturing industry only accounts for 10% of jobs.

So what is the most common industry in America? As it turns out, the combination of health care and education is the leading industry in America per the most recent Census data.

For as diverse and far reaching as the US economy seems to be in our collective minds, the hard reality is that only several industries dominate the labor landscape.

Now let's take a look at some of the more interesting aspects of America's industrial geography.

Table Of Contents

1. Educational and Health Care Services Dominate The Map

It isn't really a surprise to see this industry blanket a good chunk of the map.

We mentioned it in the introduction, but this industrial classifications essentially encompasses the fastest growing jobs out there at the moment -- health care and home aide jobs.

Interestingly, Educational services, health care, and social assistance covers 100% of New England. This corresponds to education and age as this area of the country has a higher level education than average and tend to have a higher median age.

Olmsted County, Minnesota has the largest percent of its workforce in this industry, topping out at 45.9%.

Loving County, Texas has the lowest as only 1 of its 19 employed residents work in the industry.

2. The Rust Belt Still Holds On To Manufacturing

The Rust Belt As Seen By Industry
The Rust Belt in orange.

We assigned random colors to each of the different industries, but, fittingly, the rust belt received a burnt orange. This gave the large swath of orange in the Midwest ranging from Wisconsin and Michigan down to Missouri and Mississippi an immediate visual pop.

The bad news for the rust belt is that it continues to shrink.

Looking at this same map from 2010, you can see how the number of orange counties has declined over the past decade or so and given way to education and health care jobs.

And, unfortunately, the news isn't getting any better as manufacturing jobs can be found up and down the list of jobs expected to decline over the next decade.

The county must reliant on manufacturing outside of Aleutians East Borough, Alaska (55%), is LaGrange County, Indiana where 50.4% of workers work in manufacturing.

3. An Agriculture Belt Appears Out West

The Agriculture Belt As Seen By Industry
The Agg Belt in light blue.

I'm not sure if this part of the country officially counts as a "belt", but I'm assigning it the Agriculture Belt for the purposes of talking about.

Let's see if the nickname sticks.

You can see the light blue belt in the map above from Montana and North Dakota down to Texas. The official industry name is Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and mining and it's the smallest industry in the country with just about 1.9% of Americans working in it.

However, in this neck of the woods, over 30% of the employed population works in the industry. That's 15x or higher than the national average.

Clark County, Idaho has the highest percentage as 62.9% of its employed residents work in the field.

I find it charming that New York County, New York has the lowest at 0.00599%.

4. Think We Found The Counties That Cater Towards Tourists

Touristy Places That Have A Lot Of Food Services
Arts, entertainment, and recreation, and accommodation and food services industry in Nevada, Utah, and Colorado

Looking out west, we find several counties in Nevada, Utah, and Colorado that have an extra-large percentage of people employed in the Arts, entertainment, and recreation, and accommodation and food services industry.

Gosh these government names are a mouthful, but that's basically entertainment, lodging, and food services.

You'd probably know them better as hotels and resorts.

Las Vegas is the obvious employer for the counties in and around it. It might have the most out-sized impact on the surrounding economy of any major city in America -- at least when it comes to industry.

The other counties next door in Colorado and Utah are home to a different kind of getaway -- skiing and outdoor recreation. A stark contrast to the stay indoors atmosphere around Las Vegas, but with a similar mix of workers.

Daggett County, Utah has the highest percentage of workers in this industry at 45%. Clark County, Nevada, home to Vegas, comes in eighth overall at 28.7%.

On the flip side, a bunch of counties in Texas have no one employed in this industry.

5. Special Counties That Stuck Out Like A Different Color Thumb

Box Butte County, Nebraska
Box Butte County, Nebraska

There are three counties I noticed for their different colors on the map.

Box Butte County, Nebraska. About 24% of workers work in transportation. The majority of people here work not in trucking, but for the railroad. Specifically, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.

Dallas County, Iowa. Surprisingly, 21% of people here work in Finance, Real Estate, or Leasing -- which just barely beat out the much more common education and health services. I'm not totally sure what employers exactly people work for here, but West Des Moines and Urbandale are the headline metros.

Brown County, Illinois. 20% of Brown County employed residents work in Wholesale. From what I can tell, it looks like the county houses a Walmart distribution center. And since the county is relatively small, the Wholesale industry takes a slim majority of the residents.

How We Determined The Most Common Industry In Each County

When we need data on occupations, industries, and jobs in America, we normally first turn to the BLS -- they literally have labor and statistics in their name. However, we hit a snag with their data this time around as they produce timely, but incomplete data at the county level.

So it was on to our trust back up -- the Census's American Community Survey. And lucky for us, they just released their newest batch of data. And while it's "new", the data only covers counties through 2017, but we think it still accurately reflects the current reality of industries across America.

The table we looked at specifically was S2405 INDUSTRY BY OCCUPATION FOR THE CIVILIAN EMPLOYED POPULATION 16 YEARS AND OVER for the 2013-2017 ACS. We ignored the occupation part and focused on the industry as it's a tad more specific as it breaks down into 13 industries instead of five occupations.

The industry classifications come from the 4-digit codes in the North American Industry Classification System 2012.


We then mapped each county's largest industry as a percent of employed workers with the result being the map shown above.

Detailed Break Down Of Industry In America

Rank Industry Percent
1Educational services, and health care and social assistance23.1%
2Retail trade11.4%
3Professional, scientific, and management, and administrative and waste management services11.3%
5Arts, entertainment, and recreation, and accommodation and food services9.7%
6Finance and insurance, and real estate and rental and leasing6.6%
8Transportation and warehousing, and utilities5.1%
9Other services, except public administration4.9%
10Public administration4.7%
11Wholesale trade2.7%
13Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and mining1.9%

Educational services, and health care and social assistance dominates the industries in America as it accounts for about a quarter of the working age population and is twice the size of the second most common industry.

Furthermore, most economic models project that the industry will only continue to grow as Americans continue to age as a population.

Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and mining is the smallest industry in America as a whole, but dominates part of the country.

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