MFG.com announced the results of its latest two-part MFGWatch survey. Job growth amongst small manufacturers in North America exploded to higher rates than previously seen in any MFGWatch survey cycle, and more small supplier manufacturing businesses indicated improved business conditions in Q4 ’10. These responses indicate meaningful expansion in the space closing out 2010, and manufacturers see strong growth for 2011.
Other findings in North American manufacturing from Q4 ’10 include:
- More North American buyers indicated that they added to their stable of suppliers in Q4 ’10, the most in three quarters (since Q1 ’10). However, a slight pall resides over these numbers as buyers failed to fulfill their expectations to add suppliers as previously expressed for the fifth straight quarter. Still, the improved actualization of supplier engagement is seen as good news for small manufacturers and the regional economy in general as opportunities for new business improve.
- Hiring among North American buyers remained virtually flat in Q4 ’10, but with positive signs for the coming months. While respondents report a 1% increase in hiring over Q3 ’10 (30% and 29%, respectively), they met or exceeded anticipated hiring predictions from the previous quarter by 1%. Q4 ’10 is the second straight quarter that buyers beat the previous quarters projections for job growth within their companies.
- The number of buyers reporting significant supply chain disruptions fell 3% from the previous quarter (37% and 40%, respectively), to the same levels as reported in the first MFGWatch Survey (Q3 ’09). This number represents the second straight quarter where reports of disruptions have fallen, since a high of 51% reported in Q2 ’10. This downward trend suggests a stabilization of supply chains managed in and from North America, and likely indicate improved controls over suppliers and logistics channels. However, for the fifth straight quarter well over one-third of North American sourcing manufacturers report experiencing significant supply chain disruptions — a startlingly consistent number that suggests important costs among industrial companies managing extended supply chains.
- A quarter (25%) of North American buyers report that their companies have returned work to North America from a low-cost production country, topping the previous record of 21% (Q2 ’10), and up significantly from the previous quarter (19%). This activity suggests the emergence of repatriating work to North America from a trickle to a trend. Activity in the coming quarters will confirm this, but small North American manufacturers should also see these latest figures as encouraging for future opportunities from localized prospects in the region.
- Despite a lack of optimism expressed in the previous quarter’s projections, 44% of small manufacturers report improved business conditions in Q4 ’10 (over 28% that predicted growth in the last MFGWatch survey). The 44% reporting improved business conditions not only jumped 4% over those reporting growth in Q3 ’10 — that figure represents the most growth in the space since Q3 ’09. Further, 34% of small manufacturers anticipate improved business conditions in Q1 ’11, the highest percentage of optimism seen since the MFGWatch survey cycles began in Q3 ’09.
- In the single most encouraging category in Q4 ‘10’s MFGWatch survey, North American suppliers reporting they had added jobs rose a whopping 5% to 31%, up from 26% in Q3 ’10 and significantly higher than the 19% that predicted they would add jobs in the last quarter. Adding to the optimistic tone, 30% of small manufacturers expect to add jobs in Q1 ’11, the highest level of optimism stated since Q3 ‘09. And rounding out the positive employment reports from small manufacturers, the smallest percentage reported job contraction (16%) than ever noted in an MFGWatch survey.
- For the fourth consecutive quarter, just about one-third (32%) of buyers expect to explore moving production closer to North America from a low-cost sourcing destination. This consistency is particularly noteworthy, in that the numbers of buyers that are actually moving work closer to North America are trending upward and nearly matching those predicting to do so in the previous quarter.
- The availability of competent suppliers narrowly beat out logistics and shipping costs by only a single vote as buyers identified the greatest threats to their supply chains. However, when volatile fuel costs (coming in third) are factored in, logistics issues are far and away the biggest headache for buyers, purchasers and spend management. These factors, along with product quality issues, paint a picture of extended supply chain management taking its toll on buyers to bring products to market under cost and to customer expectations.
“It’s been a long, rough ride, but it looks like manufacturing in North America is turning the corner,” said Mitch Free, founder and CEO of MFG.com. “While larger sourcing manufacturers in the region have seen some growth spurts over the past six months, small and midsized manufacturers say they’re seeing growth and increased activity. And they’re hiring now — which is the most encouraging of all benchmarks. These small companies account for the majority of jobs in this sector, and this where expansion has been sorely lacking. Now it’s time for us to seize on these opportunities and sustain this momentum.”