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Chemicals Industry
The chemicals industry is one of the United States' largest manufacturing industries and also one of the top exporting sectors of U.S. manufacturing.

SelectUSA Chemicals Industry

Industry Overview

The chemical 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. The U.S. exported over $208 billion worth of chemicals in 2019. As a leader in chemical production, over 15% of the world’s chemicals come from the U.S.

The industry’s more-than 13,000 firms produce 70,000+ products. In 2019, the U.S. chemical industry directly employed more than 544,000 workers, with additional indirect employment by industry suppliers of more than 1.8 million. Total FDI in the industry was $774.5 billion in 2019. Majority foreign-owned firms contributed almost $50 billion to U.S. exports in 2018, and spent $22 billion on R&D. With this R&D spending, and a record of strong enforcement of intellectual property rights, the chemical industry accounts for a significant portion of patents granted in the United States.  

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 chemical firms from across the globe. 

Industry Subsectors

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. As of 2017, there were 2,420 establishments in this subsector. Foreign direct investment totaled $144.9 billion in 2019 and supported 104,300 jobs. In 2018, the percent of total employment due to FDI was 42 percent. The most recent employment figures from 2020 estimate 240,400 workers are employed in this industry.


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. As of 2017, there were 1,756 establishments in this industry. The total FDI in the paints, coatings, and adhesives industry was $8.5 billion in 2019. In 2018, 13,000 or about 20 percent of the jobs in this industry were supported by FDI. The latest employment figures from 2020 estimate that 60,600 workers are employed in the paints, coating, and adhesives industry.


This industry group comprises establishments primarily engaged in one or more of the following: manufacturing nitrogenous or phosphatic fertilizer materials; manufacturing fertilizers from sewage or animal waste; manufacturing nitrogenous or phosphatic materials and mixing with other ingredients into fertilizers; mixing ingredients made elsewhere into fertilizers; and formulating and preparing pesticides and other agricultural chemicals. As of 2017, there were 975 establishments in this industry and the latest employment figures of 2020 estimate there are 38,100 workers in the industry. The FDI position in 2019 was $13.5 billion and the share of employment from FDI in 2018 was about 21 percent. 


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. In 2019, foreign direct investment in this sector totaled $511.3 billion.

 In 2019, about 300,000 workers were employed in the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing  sector earning an average annual wage of $76,490. Directly and indirectly, the industry supports more than 4.7 million jobs across the United States. Over 215,000 of these jobs were supported by foreign direct investment in 2018. The most common occupations in this industry are production occupations which are comprised of 90,160 workers making an average annual wage of $45,320. Of these workers, 25,690 are employed specifically as packaging and filling machine operators and tenders earning an average annual wage of $35,130. The second most common occupations are life, physical, and social science occupations. There are 44,790 workers employed in these occupations earning an average annual wage of $82,280. 


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. Foreign direct investment totaled $56.8 billion in 2019, and supported 40,500 jobs or about 36% of all the jobs in this industry in 2018. As of 2017, there were 2,248 establishments in this industry. The latest employment figures from 2020 estimate that 109,600 workers are employed in this industry.

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Additional Information

Explore the impact of foreign direct investment on U.S. jobs, exports, and innovation in the chemicals industry.

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Investor Guide

The Investor Guide is a high-level view of everything from taxes to immigration and workforce to business structures.

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SelectUSA Stats

SelectUSA has created several dashboards to help analyze key FDI data from a variety of sources.

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Industry Associations
A comprehensive list of associations in the chemicals industry.
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Browse this state incentives database developed by the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER).
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