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Survey: Manufacturing Adjusting To Post-Recession 'New Normal'

Thu, 09/13/2012 - 2:00pm

CHICAGO — Middle market manufacturers and distributors are adjusting to the “new normal” of the post-recession era by focusing on efficiencies, operational improvements and innovation, according to a newly released McGladrey Manufacturing and Distribution Monitor, a survey of middle-market manufacturing and distribution executives that provides a unique look into the state of manufacturing on “Main Street.” The survey, sponsored by McGladrey LLP, one of nation’s leading assurance, tax and consulting firms, shows that these companies are largely optimistic about their own businesses. It also indicates, however, that they are grappling with a variety of challenges, including eroding confidence in both domestic and global economic conditions, struggles with finding the talent they need to compete, and uncertainty around the looming expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.

According to the survey, 83 percent of middle market manufacturers and distributors are optimistic about conditions for their own businesses. However, the number of companies reporting that they are “thriving” is 39 percent, a six percent decrease since 2011, and that decline has been accompanied by deteriorating confidence in both the domestic and global business environment. In 2012, less than half (46.7 percent) of the 924 respondents report having an optimistic outlook on the U.S. economy, down from 62 percent in the spring of 2011. Confidence in the world economy has plummeted, as well, with only 16.9 percent of respondents reporting some optimism about the world economy – down from 50 percent in the spring.

Additional findings from the survey revealed that nearly three quarters of all respondents (73.7 percent) reported that the expiration of the Bush era income tax rates would do some harm to their business, with nearly half (48.3 percent) reporting that it would do moderate or major harm. Similar expectations were found when respondents were asked about the potential harm created by the expirations of capital gains tax rates (64.7 percent) and the bonus depreciation credit (69.3 percent).

“While it is clear that manufacturers and distributors continue to feel ‘steadied’ in the wake of the turmoil of the past several years, it is obvious that their confidence in their surroundings is beginning to erode once again, said Karen Kurek, national manufacturing leader for McGladrey.  “According to the survey, a healthy percentage of manufacturers and distributors are thriving or at least holding their own. However, they know they have not returned to the same economy or business environment they were operating in prior to the recession, and are, therefore, faced with making fundamental adjustments to their business and operations models. While concerns about the economy continue, companies are investing in their futures by spending on information technology to enhance systems and processes, and adding employees who can help them become more efficient.” 

Process and Technology

Further analysis of responses shows that, given the current state of sluggish economic growth and uncertainty, manufacturers and distributors are both tackling the “new normal” by becoming leaner, more efficient businesses, focusing on making more long-term, structural changes to process and technology infrastructures that boost productivity while cutting costs. However, as companies invest more in information technology, it is clear that they will need to recognize that they face new risks as well.

  • Ninety-three percent of manufacturers reported they were lowering costs through operational efficiencies – by far the most common answer of all choices in the survey. The second most common choice also highlighted efforts to improve process: 57 percent of manufacturers said they were working with suppliers and/or customers to improve their processes and costs.
  •  Companies also credited process improvements as a driving factor behind increases in productivity over the past 12 months. More than 70 percent of businesses reported that process improvements were a factor that most improved productivity. Process improvements are clearly becoming a top priority for companies that have emerged from the recession in good shape: more than 78 percent of “thriving” businesses reported that they were planning to increase investments over the next 12 months, as compared to only 61 percent of those that were “holding their own” and 45 percent of “declining businesses.”
  • Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) reported that they expect to increase spending on information technology within the next 12 months - this includes nearly 20 percent who said they would increase IT spending by more than 11 percent.
  • While technology spending is on the rise, companies have been slow to recognize the associated risks. When asked whether they believed their companies’ data is at risk, 77 percent of respondents said they do not.

Employment and Innovation

Manufacturers and distributors are also planning to add employees in positions that reflect their commitment to process improvement and innovation, although they are facing significant challenges in finding the talent and skills they need to fill key positions. 

  • Companies are increasing employment in areas that reflect their commitment to becoming more advanced, leaner and adaptive companies, including engineering (41.2 percent), research and development (21.6 percent) and IT (16.6 percent).
  • While businesses have recognized a need for talent and skills that will help them innovate and compete, they are still facing significant challenges in finding workers to fill those positions. Approximately 41 percent of businesses report that they find the skilled talent they require only rarely or some of the time.
  • At the same time, companies are also addressing this skills gap challenge head-on. Seventy-one percent of businesses reported using internal training and skills-development programs, while 31 percent reported collaborating with colleges and universities, and 31 percent with vocational/technical skills institutions.

In addition to the key findings outlined above, results from the 2012 McGladrey Manufacturing and Distribution Monitor provide a wealth of key data on middle market manufacturers and distributors, including predictions on sales increases for the coming year, projected increases for transportation, energy, raw materials, and other costs, and additional data on hiring plans for the next 12 months.

Results from the 2012 Monitor are online. Detailed breakdowns of industry segments, including automotive; food and beverage; chemicals, oil and plastics; industrial machinery, biotech and medical; metal fabrication; and more are incorporated.

The McGladrey Manufacturing and Distribution Monitor surveys industry leaders of manufacturing and distribution organizations to assess the current state of the industry and to determine what steps CEOs, CFOs and other executives are taking to grow their businesses and stay competitive. All data is collected online in response to invitations from McGladrey and from partnering associations and chambers of commerce across the United States.

Research Methodology

The 2012 McGladrey Manufacturing and Distribution Monitor was conducted using an online questionnaire promoted by McGladrey LLP and various industrial associations to principally U.S.-based manufacturing and distribution organizations. There were 924 total valid respondents to the Monitor, which consisted of 554 manufacturers and 370 distributors. Responses were submitted in May and June 2012. The MPI Group, an independent research firm, received and analyzed the data. All respondent answers to the Monitor are confidential. As an incentive to complete the Monitor, participants receive a customized benchmark report.

About McGladrey

McGladrey LLP is the fifth largest U.S. provider of assurance, tax and consulting services, with more than 6,500 professionals and associates in 75 offices nationwide. McGladrey is a licensed CPA firm, and is a member of RSM International, the sixth largest global network of independent accounting, tax and consulting firms. For more information, visit www.mcgladrey.com, join our Facebook fan page at McGladrey News, follow us on Twitter @McGladrey and/or connect with us on LinkedIn.

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