U.S. Sign Industry Size and Impact Study

With the U.S. Sign Industry – Size and Impact Study, ISA has undertaken the most complete analysis of the U.S. sign industry ever performed. Members of the sign industry have long recognized that accurate measurements of the sign industry are lacking. Data on sales, employment, and economic impacts were difficult to locate and verify. Traditionally, the only measures of the size of the industry were taken from anecdotal accounts, proprietary sales information, and economic data collected by the US Census Bureau. Those sources were often difficult to verify and tended to undercount certain segments of the industry that were less familiar to the analyst (electric signs vs. digital graphics vs. display advertising). ISA’s historic measurements of the sign industry have focused on measurements of individual facilities (including the biennial ISA/WSA Survey of Operations). Now, ISA has focused on broadly measuring the scope of the industry.

ISA believes that the Probe Economics report has the most accurate profile of the sign industry ever compiled.

Key Findings of the Sign Industry Size and Impact Study

How large is the U.S. sign industry?
In 2006, the U.S. sign industry had shipments of $49.5 billion and employed 262,700 employees. The most recent U.S. Census Bureau data (2006), which characterized “sign manufacturing” as an $11.7 billion industry, these new numbers may appear surprising. However, long-time industry members observed that billions of dollars of signs are created in business sectors that are not characterized by the Census as “sign manufacturing:” industries like “digital printing,” “display advertising services,” “graphic design,” etc. ISA and the Probe Economics team tried to measure the “sign” portion of these other related economic sectors and to quantify the other channels that sign production reaches end-customers without using traditional “sign companies.”

The data contained within the report is quite meaningful:

• While manufacturing as a whole in the U.S. has experienced steady decline, sign manufacturing has steadily increased.
• From 1992-2006, sign manufacturing jobs grew 1.3 percent/year, while employment in all manufacturing sectors declined.
• Real value added in sign manufacturing (corrected for inflation) grew 3.3 percent each year from 1992-2006, exceeding overall manufacturing growth.
• Concentration of sign manufacturing corresponds roughly to population, with California, Texas and Ohio having the most sign manufacturing jobs.
• Advertising agencies are important specifiers/producers of signs, with a larger than expected impact in overall sign manufacturing.
• The U.S. has a growing trade deficit in sign manufacturing (as with most manufactured goods). But the deficit is only about one percent of all sign manufacturing production.
• While sign components are often manufactured outside the United States, the production of finished signs remains largely insulated from international competition. This occurs, in part, due to the customized nature of signs and expense associated with shipping discouraging long-distance production.
• 75 percent of U.S. sign imports originate in three countries: China, Canada, and Mexico. 67 percent of U.S. sign exports are bound for Canada and Mexico.

Why do these statistics matter?
Accurate statistical information matters to ISA and to sign companies for different, and equally important, reasons.

For sign companies and those suppliers selling products and services to sign companies, accurate information on the profile of the industry is crucial to making informed, well-founded decisions about how and where to locate facilities, pursue business opportunities, and develop products to serve new markets. The potential opportunities in a $45 billion marketplace are far different from an $11.7 billion marketplace.

For ISA, the association that represents the sign industry, representing the interests of the sign industry requires demonstrating the true scope and importance of the sign industry within U.S. manufacturing. When ISA representatives meet with congressional or local officials, the meeting almost always begins with an introduction to the sign industry and a discussion of how large (and important) a role our industry plays in the national economy. Armed with accurate statistics that capture the full scope of the sign industry, ISA and member company representatives can demonstrate the true national and state impacts of the sign industry to the local economy.

What are the next steps for ISA?
As the leading association of the on-premise sign industry, ISA is the appropriate representative to work with the government to ensure it is accurately capturing the activity within the industry. In conducting this study, ISA found the Census Bureau’s raw data greatly underestimate sign industry activity. Therefore, ISA will work with the Census Bureau to update its forms and codes to more accurately capture the scope of the industry.