Buoyed by growth and confident in their futures, American manufacturers are laying out an agenda for restoring their industry to its earlier glory, according to the results of ThomasNet.com’s newest Industry Market Barometer. Overwhelmingly, they are pushing to revitalize the American manufacturing sector by creating jobs at home, doing business with U.S. suppliers and expressing pride in the quality of products that are “Made in America,” reports the online buyers guide formerly known as Thomas Register.
More than 3,700 buyers and suppliers of industrial products and services, including more than 1,600 professionals from manufacturing companies, participated in the latest IMB survey. The research looked at their performance during 2011, their outlook for 2012, and their growth strategies.
“Manufacturers know they do more than sell products or provide services; they play a vital role in the growth of the American economy,” says Eileen Markowitz, president of Thomas Industrial Network. “Their success is critical to the success of America. And as we can see from this report, the future is looking bright for all of us.”
According to the survey, nearly half of all respondents (46 percent) grew in 2011, and 70 percent expect their companies to grow in 2012. Twenty-five percent expect business to stay the same this year, while only 5 percent forecast declines. Most attribute expected growth to a wide variety of strategies, including a focus on customer retention and service, competing more aggressively in core markets, developing innovative new products and pursuing new business in the U.S. and overseas. Top projected growth markets in 2012 include: fabricated metals, aerospace and defense, automotive, energy/utilities, construction and medical equipment/instrumentation.
This level of growth is igniting a new wave of investments among manufacturers preparing to meet future demand. They (83 percent) are spending on capital equipment, hardware, software and facilities in order to increase production capacity, upgrading their plants, and developing new products and services.
In addition, nearly half of these manufacturers (48 percent) are hiring, with openings for line workers, skilled trade workers and engineers. But for many manufacturers, finding the best people to fill these new positions is far from assured. IMB respondents lament the skilled labor shortage and stress the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curricula in the schools.
In addition to the labor issue, manufacturers point to pricing pressures and overseas competition as challenges to growth. China’s ability to pay lower wages and charge less for products is a thorn in the side for many. In response, some U.S. manufacturing companies are promoting the quality of their “Made in America” brands as a way to combat offshoring.
Respondents to ThomasNet.com’s IMB are also capitalizing on America’s reputation for quality by ramping up their exports. Nearly 7 out of 10 (67 percent) are selling overseas, and more than one-third (37 percent) plan to increase their international sales.
To reach new clients, overseas and at home, nearly nine out of 10 respondents (86 percent) are investing in online marketing this year, and more than half (52 percent) are increasing these investments. They report that their websites have helped them find new sources of business, improve customer service and increase revenues.
With successes like these, manufacturers are bullish on their own careers. More than three-fourths say they would “do it all over again” if they were just starting out. They want younger generations to appreciate manufacturing, too. As one respondent notes: “There is excitement to be found in creating something tangible, from engineering and design to the finished product.” ["Manufacturers know they do more than sell products or provide services; they play a vital role in the growth of the American economy.” Eileen Markowitz, Thomas Industrial Network.]