Minnesota manufacturers smiling again

Bob Kill, Enterprise Minnesota

After several uncertain years, the mood has turned the corner among Minnesota's companies that make everything from metal parts to medical equipment to boats to ice cream.

The sixth annual State of Manufacturing survey found executives more optimistic about their futures than in any of the previous polls, with 84 percent confident about the future of their firms. However, they still are cautious about the factors beyond their control.

"They are feeling confident in their firms and in the economy," Bob Kill, of Enterprise Minnesota, said during a presentation at Rochester Community and Technical College on Monday. "But not in their state."

One negative in the survey is that 51 percent of manufacturing executives felt that the state is "on the wrong track" as far as the business environment goes. That's the highest percentage feeling that way since 2010.

Enterprise Minnesota, a non-profit business development group, polled 400 leaders at companies of all sizes for this report. The goal of the survey, which began in 2008, is to gauge what's coming for the 7,400 state's manufacturers. Manufacturing accounts for 12 to 13 percent of the state's workforce and 14 to 15 percent of its payroll.


The mood definitely is spiking upward with 36 percent of executives feeling "very confident" in their firm's future, compared to the 28 percent that felt that just a year before.

The results show that the majority believe their revenues will be up, and 54 percent expect wages to increase during the next two years.

Mike Jensen, president/CEO at Gauthier Industries Inc., says the mood at his Rochester company matches the results of the survey. His contract manufacturing firm has added about 10 to 12 more employees over last year for a total staff of about 105.

"There's definitely an uptick," he said.

With the economy strengthening, the challenge now is to find and retain qualified workers. Gauthier has a very low turnover rate with the average tenure at more than 11 years.

"We have good employees, but we're looking for younger talent," he said.

The hunt for qualified workers puts Gauthier in competition with Mayo Clinic and many local manufacturers like Crenlo. However, Jensen feels better about the local training programs in high schools and colleges than in the past.

"It's getting better, but we just need more of it," he said.


Kill emphasized that training is key for companies' future success.

"You have to have a more than cursory relationship with your local university or technical college," he said.

The Enterprise Minnesota survey found that finding and retaining workers is especially a challenge for the northwest portion of the state competing with the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. The oil industry pulls workers from Minnesota communities like Alexandria, said Kill.

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