Manufacturers report optimism on sales, hiring

Jessica Thiel
Posted by of Insight Publications

The NEW Manufacturing Alliance announced the results of its 11th annual Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Vitality Index Study at its quarterly membership meeting today.

Mike Kawleski, public affairs manager for Georgia-Pacific and chair of the Alliance’s communications task force, shared the results of the study, which serves as an indication of the strength and vitality of manufacturing employers in the New North.

“This year’s report finds that although the pandemic did impact some manufacturers, overall manufacturers are bullish about 2021. They plan to invest in their businesses and expect strong sales growth,” Kawleski said. “In addition, almost half are planning to hire in the first quarter of 2021. The biggest issue is that the skills shortage continues to be of great concern, especially in machinist occupations.”

The alliance has commissioned the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s Center for Customized Research and Services to administer the study over the past 11 years. Presidents and CEOs of Northeast Wisconsin manufacturing companies with at least $3 million in revenue and 25 or more employees participated in the study. In total, 128 manufacturers participated in the survey conducted in October and November 2020, answering questions related to financial health, business growth expansion, plant modernization, 2021 hiring intentions and potential skills shortages.

Respondents said their companies are financially solid, with 92 percent projecting their firms’ financial health in the next six to 12 months will be “healthy” or “quite healthy.” In 2020, during the pandemic, 41 percent stated that they saw a decrease in sales, however 40 percent stated they had an increase.

Manufacturers believe that they will have strong growth in sales in 2021, with 73 percent expecting an increase in sales. Over half of the companies surveyed plan on investing in plant modernization. In addition, one in four manufacturers report they will be investing in expanding their plants.

“The first quarter of 2021 should be strong for hiring, with almost half of companies (47 percent) saying they plan on hiring in the first three months of next year. In subsequent quarters, over 40 percent plan on hiring,” said Ann Franz, the alliance’s executive director.

More than 70 percent of respondents stated they were concerned they would not find the workforce they need in 2021.

Employees such as CNC machinists, operators, production workers, skilled trades, engineers, welders, industrial maintenance/electro-mechanical technicians and assemblers remain difficult to locate and are in high demand. Machinists/machine operator positions were noted as hardest to fill in this year’s survey. Employability skills also are heavily in demand, especially attendance, communication, motivation, teamwork and math skills.

This year’s study also asked questions related to the impact of COVID-19. One in four manufacturers responded that they have made a new or modified product due to the pandemic. In addition, the same number reported they were forced to find a new supplier due to constraints in the supply chain.

Questions regarding the study can be directed to Ann Franz at 920-498-5587 or [email protected] An executive summary of the study can be found on the alliance’s website,