September 15, 2023

Made in the USA

Made in the USA

Like many of you, I try to “buy American” when I can, so I’m always encouraged when there are signs of growth in the manufacturing industry.

Marcum’s 2023 National Manufacturing Survey had some good news on that front, with 71% of respondents optimistic about the coming year and 72% seeing revenue growth of 5% or more.

Manufacturers are also planning carefully for a future that may continue to include inflationary costs, at least in the near term. The accountant in me was pleased to see that 74% of respondents’ firms are keeping a strong focus on cash flow, and 58% are increasing their planning efforts.

But there’s some work to be done in this sector. While many companies said they are looking toward technological advancements, such as artificial intelligence and enterprise resource planning software, a significant 30% have minimal automation in their processes. That means almost one-third of the industry could easily be left behind by more tech-savvy competitors.

It’s not always by choice. As the survey underlined, there is a serious labor shortage in manufacturing, and it is especially hard to find newcomers to the field who have the credentials to operate computerized machinery. It may be hard for plants to invest in new technology if they can’t find anyone to program it or run it. I hope we’ll see more of a push into training the workers of the future through apprenticeships and other means so manufacturers can continue raising their game when it comes to production. Because it’s guaranteed that competitors around the world in markets with lower costs are doing just that.

Manufacturing was once the engine that made our economy great, and we still have a lot to be proud of. However, we’re at an inflection point. For manufacturers who embrace new technology, such as advanced robotics, there is a lot of opportunity ahead to run a more capital-efficient operation. That’s especially true given the trend toward near-shoring that took root in the pandemic. Unfortunately, competitors who drag their feet will not be able to keep pace.

I think we’ll see more manufacturers come around as they witness the innovations and efficiencies other firms in their industry are achieving. The situation in manufacturing reminds me of public accounting a few years back. Although many firms were doing sophisticated work for their clients, they relied on outdated processes.

In the end, many of us learned to embrace technology because it helped us do our work more quickly and accurately. Today, accounting has morphed into what is, in essence, a tech field. I believe that almost every field will ultimately become tech-driven as the economy evolves. The question is, “When?” Sooner rather than later is usually the right answer to fuel growth—and it’s good news for the American economy that a substantial number of manufacturers are leaning in that direction.

Tonight starts the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Happy Shana Tova to those of you who celebrate.