Manufacturing industry, for so long the lifeblood of the West Midlands economy, has been eclipsed in value by the property sector.
Spiralling rents and land values have helped real estate, renting and related activities catch up with engineering and other creative industries, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.
And last night one property expert said the ONS statistics, which relate to 2002 and are the latest available, could mean commercial property and lettings have already overtaken manufacturing in terms of wealth generated.
Figures collated by the ONS reveal the share of gross-added value, or local GDP, manufacturing contributed to the local economy fell from 29 per cent in 1992 to 20.9 per cent in 2002.
Meanwhile, the property sector increased its share from 15.9 to 20.8 per cent.
According to analysis by The Birmingham Post, at those rates, manufacturing has been usurped by property as the main wealth generator in the region.
For while manufacturing has continued to grow, from £12.9 billion in 1992 to £15.4 billion in 2002, the rate of growth by the property sector has been far greater. Its worth to West Midlands Plc has doubled from £7.1 billion to £15.2 billion, fuelled by rising land values and rents.
Neil Pountney, managing director of property consultants Neil Pountney Consultants, said: "We all know that manufacturing is falling, regrettably, while business has been buoyant in the financial and professional sector in the West Midlands. Birmingham in particular has become a prime area outside of London to locate.
"This, in turn, has increased the demand for commercial property which pushes up prices and rents. Residential prices have also gone up.
"Nationally, manufacturing represented 16.2 per cent of the UK's gross value added, compared with 24.4 per cent for property.
James Hall, managing director of Astra Engineering Products in Aston, said: "We are losing more industries which actually generate wealth. There is only a small number of people making money out of property while manufacturing employs far more people.
"I am not saying it is wrong, but it is a sad day when property overtakes manufacturing."
Ian Smith, chief executive of the Engineering Employers Federation in the West Midlands acknowledged there had been a change in recent years.
He said: "Manufacturing has fallen because other economies have been able to make the products we have traditionally made, but much cheaper. But manufacturing is still absolutely critical to the local economy; it enables us to afford the public services and the other investments in infrastructure."
Mr Smith said there needed to be a change in the way manufacturing was organised and worked.
He said: "We cannot go on thinking we can continue making the same products in the way that we used to."
The region needs a highlyskilled workforce involved in "knowledge-based products," he pointed out and added: "We must wake up as a nation, but we also need to stop talking ourselves down. In this region, we have many world-class companies."