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Survey of Minnesota's Manufacturers Paints a Positive Picture

May 15, 2014
Last week, I attended an event for the release of Enterprise Minnesota's 6th annual State of Manufacturing® surveyEnterprise Minnesota is a consulting organization that helps medium to smaller sized Minnesota manufacturers grow and develop their businesses. Among its efforts to help foster and sustain manufacturing in Minnesota, Enterprise Minnesota has commissioned this survey to assess the views of Minnesota's manufacturers regarding the condition of their industry.   
The survey was conducted by pollster Rob Autry of Public Opinion Strategies, who interviewed 400 manufacturing executives representing a cross-section of Minnesota's manufacturers - big and small, in-state and out-state, and in different industries. 14 separate focus group sessions were also held to supplement the findings from the survey.
The report itself is available using this link through Enterprise Minnesota's website. The report contains the full results of the survey, transcripts from the various focus group sessions, analysis from Mr. Autry and others, as well as some issue articles by leading industry experts. A quick plug for the included great article about protecting know-how and other confidential information by my colleagues Jennifer Debrow and Dean LeDoux (see pages 39-45 of the report).  
Among the things that I found interesting about the report are the following:
A whopping 84% of manufacturing executives are confident about the future prospects of their own companies. 
Those surveyed are not quite as confident about the economy as a whole—54% believe the economy will be flat for 2014—only 7% are concerned about the economy contracting this year. Anecdotally, I had the sense that business executives generally are more confident about business in general, but these numbers are even more bullish than I expected. 
Unless you've been living under a rock, you wouldn't be surprised to learn that the greatest concern for manufacturing executives is the cost of health care for their employees. 59% of manufactures cite this as their biggest concern. Interestingly enough, this percentage is actually down from the prior year's survey (when 67% of those surveyed cited health care costs as their chief concern). I don't know whether this decrease reflects an improving situation for health care costs, or just some sort of peculiarity with the survey sampling. 
In the panel discussion that followed the presentation of the survey results, there was significant discussion and concern about the ability to find and retain qualified workers. Almost all of the manufacturers on the panel cited this as a critical issue going forward, and the concern was particularly heightened for manufacturers in rural parts of the state. Most agreed that better public-private partnerships among companies, technical and state colleges and local development and government agencies can help to identify the training and skills development needs for manufacturers, and foster the creation of needed resources and curriculum.
While there were several other concerns cited in the report, I thought on the whole the outlook for Minnesota's manufacturers (at least as reflected in this report) was very positive. The event was also a good opportunity to stay apprised of the trends occurring in the manufacturing industry and the issues and concerns facing our manufacturing company clients. Enterprise Minnesota is also hosting several other release events in greater Minnesota through June 13th (the schedule is here). If you have the interest, one of these events would be worth your time.

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