Doug Jones cuts a jumbo roll of foam adhesive at Springfield's 3M plant. The company recently purchased 16 acres and a 150,000-square-foot building with future growth in mind.
Manufacturing: Job growth hinges on perception, market conditions
President Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget, announced Feb. 1, includes tax incentives aimed at putting people back to work, but his optimism hasn’t trickled down to local manufacturers, who are gearing up for a slow recovery in 2010.
“We don’t know what to expect with health care and the tax laws changing,” said Bob Edmonds, president of Edmonds Dental Prosthetics Inc. and board member of Southwest Area Manufacturers Association. “Until we get through this next election cycle, we are going to be cautious about our next move.”
Most manufacturers are holding their breath right now, said Mark Harper, another SAMA board member and vice president of Monett-based WinTech Inc., which makes residential foundation and commercial windows for the HVAC industry.
“Everyone is keeping costs down and inventories low,“ he said. “A key indicator for the economy will be when business confidence rises.”
Work force hurdles The 2009 Next Generation Manufac-turing Study, released by Rolla-based Missouri Enterprise in December, identified six areas considered critical to a manufacturer’s success, including customer-focused innovation and attracting and maintaining a talented work force as the top two, cited by Ozarks companies.
A challenge to attracting skilled workers is changing the public perception of manufacturing, said Harold Zinn, senior vice president of corporate communications for Missouri Enterprise.
“For so many years, we as a society saw manufacturing as dirty, ill-lit, bad-air factories,” he said. If you look at manufacturing facilities today, they are not what they were 30 to 40 years ago. They are state-of-the-art, and we need people to see that.”
Some manufacturers, though, have fewer jobs to offer these days.
Arkansas-based Twin Rivers Group Inc. lost 400 jobs due to the downsizing of its poultry processing plant in Neosho. Paul Mueller’s Springfield plant lost more than 600 employees in the past year, dropping from 974 employees in January 2009 to 341 in January 2010, according to Springfield Business Journal research.
“It’s going to take significant growth for companies to call employees back,” said WinTech’s Harper. “Everyone works much harder in this economy. Realistically, it’ll be 2011 before we see things back to where they need to be.”
Signs of hope There is some positive news in the local manufacturing sector, including Kraft Foods’ Feb. 23 announcement that it plans to add 50 jobs and invest $9 million of capital into two new manufacturing lines at its Springfield plant. Production is expected to expand during the next six to nine months, and the new jobs could push employment above 1,000 people at the plant, 2035 E. Bennett St.
3M Co.’s 2009 acquisition of French sealant manufacturer resulted in the transfer of some production to 3M’s Springfield plant. Manager Dean McDowell said in February that the company’s purchase of an adjacent 15.6 acres and a 150,000-square-foot building at 3330 E. Pythian positions the plant for growth.
And a 51-acre site in Springfield’s Partnership Industrial Center West has received a special label from the state Department of Economic Development that could make large employers interested in the Ozarks.
The parcel, which is adjacent to Interstate 44 and near Springfield-Branson National Airport, was named Missouri’s second Certified Site. The designation is given to potential development sites that are considered shovel-ready for development. Factors that influence the designation include availability of utilities and potential development costs.[[In-content Ad]]