Metalworking: Under-Appreciated Bellwether

According to the talking heads on cable TV, the economy is bad and the future is bleak.


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According to the talking heads on cable TV, the economy is bad and the future is bleak. But a survey of our under-appreciated metalworking industry suggests otherwise. Based on the conclusions of the fifth annual Metalworking Operational Trends Survey, which was conducted by Techspex and the Research Division at LoSasso Advertising, Inc., the pundits have it wrong where manufacturing is concerned.

But manufacturing, you may think, is just a tiny little piece of our economy, so what does it matter? Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of U.S. GDP, while manufacturing represents a measly 10 percent. That might be why manufacturing doesn’t get any respect.

Ironically, though, manufacturing is enormously important to our overall economy. The benefits and influence of manufacturing touch each of us every day. More than in any business, each manufacturing dollar spent creates a ripple-effect that radiates long and strong through the economy. When manufacturing is hurting, the rest of the economy hurts. But when manufacturing is strong, it is the little engine that could, and it will tow the rest of the economy right along behind it. Plus, there are no bubbles in manufacturing because it’s an honest, competitive business with low margins that discourage speculation. Yet everyone can make a decent living at it, if they’d only give a career in manufacturing a chance. Even during the worst recession in years, thousands of good jobs in manufacturing go begging! This is why I think manufacturing is our best path to reducing the deficit and debt without reducing our standard of living. I’ll suggest the steps we need to take to supercharge the manufacturing engine in a future post, but first, the good news.

In the fifth annual survey, nearly 1,000 people at large and small metalworking companies in North America tell a different story from the pessimists. Twenty-six percent of respondents said their business was steady in 2010, but 50 percent reported growth, which was up from only 16 percent in 2009. A whopping 78 percent said they expect the market to grow in 2011. Survey conclusions present a mostly optimistic snapshot of the current manufacturing economy and forecast for the future. Bolstering the positive trend are responses to my own less-than-scientific survey at IMTS, where I asked everyone I met about their business. And I’m happy to report that for most, business is good and machine tool industry suppliers are cautiously optimistic about the future.