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Manufacturing Institute survey reports production bounceback

In the most recent NAM Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey, the Manufacturing Institute reports that manufacturing production has bounced back year to date, with output being the strongest since August 2019 in the latest data, exceeding pre-pandemic levels. 

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The most recent NAM Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey reports that 87.5% of respondents felt positive about their company’s outlook. Employment and wage growth are both expected to rise the most on record over the next 12 months. Notable challenges include soaring raw material prices, difficulties in attracting and retaining workers and lingering supply chain and logistical hurdles.

According to the Manufacturing Institute, there are a record number of job openings in the U.S. economy (nearly 11 million in the July data), with an all-time high number of postings in the manufacturing sector (889,000). There are more job openings than people who are actively looking for work in the economy —  a phenomenon that challenged firms in the two years before COVID-19. The Manufacturing Institute reports that manufacturing production has bounced back year to date, with output being the strongest since August 2019 in the latest data, which exceeds pre-pandemic levels. 

While manufacturing output has rebounded since spring 2020, small and medium-sized manufacturing businesses (SMMs) cited worker safety and flexibility as top concerns as businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 79% of survey respondents had enhanced workplace safety measures and requirements, with 55.9% noting a need for increased worker flexibility. Roughly half had reevaluated what work could be done remotely where possible, and 41.0% noted that their business was working to reengineer the production process with social distancing in mind. In addition, 67.5% of SMMs reported they were reevaluating their supply chain.

Respondents of the survey were asked to describe what the “new normal” looks like for them in their own words. Many commented on workplace flexibility, with others noting ongoing supply chain and workforce challenges. In addition, many noted that COVID-19 improved their processes.

The NAM Manufacturers’ survey asked SMM leaders if attitudes toward remote work at their company’s senior levels had changed during the pandemic. Many noted that most production workers are not able to work virtually. At the same time, for those workers who were able to perform work from home, perceptions improved for a lot of the respondents.

According to survey responses, a return to normal also means that some or many of those who have been working from home will return to the office at some point, if they have not done so already. 71.4% of survey respondents said their firms had not received any resistance or hesitance to a return-to-work setting, with 18.4% saying they had faced some resistance.

In addition, 24.5% of the survey respondents said the pandemic had changed or heightened their desire to transition or sell their business. Of those who said they were considering, 68.1% were working on a plan right now where they might have only considered it before.

Lastly, the survey reports that roughly one-third of SMMs had accelerated investments in disruptive technologies since the pandemic began. 61.4% said these technology investments were made to improve the operational performance in the production process. The other top choices included achieving cost efficiencies in the production process (57.9%), to help fill labor shortages (53.5%), to stay competitive with others in the industry (48.6%) and to help facilitate better operational excellence (44.5%). 64.3% reported that making investments in disruptive technologies had made their production process more efficient and more flexible.

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