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. The research looked at their performance during 2011, their outlook for 2012, and their growth strategies. Most of these respondents are from small and mid-sized businesses, representative of the manufacturing sector. Responses of the 1,600 manufacturers, combined with verbatim comments, provide color on the aspirations and challenges of today's manufacturing professionals.
"Manufacturers know that 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."
2011 was a year of growth for American manufacturers. According to the survey, more than half of these companies (53 percent) grew, and three-quarters of respondents (75 percent) expect their companies to grow during 2012. They attribute this growth to a wide variety of strategies, including a focus on customer retention and service, competing more aggressively in core markets, developing new/innovative products, and pursuing new business in the U.S. and overseas.
This level of growth is igniting a new wave of investments among manufacturers preparing to meet future demand. They are spending on capital equipment, hardware, software and facilities in order to increase production capacity (83 percent), upgrading their plants, and developing new products/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. Respondents to ThomasNet.com's IMB lament the skilled labor shortage, and are vocal about what needs to be done to fill the gap:
• "Not everyone needs a college degree; we really need highly trained and motivated blue-collar workers."
• "Improve the attitude within the U.S. regarding the desirability of manufacturing for the next generation."
• "Create apprentice programs in industry to equip the youth with the needed tools to pick up manufacturing knowledge. The development of skilled trades to run machines needs focus to keep manufacturing processes going."
In addition to the skilled labor shortage, 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 of many. In response, U.S. manufacturing companies are capitalizing on the meaning of the "Made in America" brand.
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 of them (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. Nearly eight out of 10 (75.5 percent) would "do it all over again" if they were just starting out. They want younger generations to appreciate manufacturing, too. One respondent notes: "There is a need for excitement to be found in creating something tangible, from engineering and design to the finished product."
Click here to download a complimentary report on the IMB findings.
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