With four decades under his belt in the electronic connectors and cable assemblies manufacturing industry, John Gentry is a leading voice in southwest Missouri. Even as analysts predict an unsteady 2020, Gentry is making moves for future expansion.
2020 Projection: In an unpredictable election year, there will be softness and a wait-and-see attitude that could affect the economy and limit industry growth.
SBJ: The industry has struggled with tariffs all year, especially on resources such as steel, leading to massive layoffs. With import taxes on another $160 billion in Chinese goods coming recently, what is the current manufacturing climate?
Gentry: In general, it’s healthy. We all go through cycles that may last for months or years, just like everybody else. Since our company is international, a lot of companies like us might be affected by the tariffs the current administration has. A lot of products that serve the high-end electronics industry are manufactured in China. I’m sure the final product will be affected by the tariffs, and that will affect the ultimate consumer. We are seeing manufacturers in China moving out of China, to other countries in southeast Asia, as quickly as they can.
SBJ: The Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index shows the industry shrinking for the past few months. That, combined with Federal Reserve data with similar findings from earlier in the year, has led to some reports that the manufacturing sector is in a recession. Do you agree?
Gentry: I can only speak for us, but, yes, we did see a three- or four-month period we were able to predict by working closely with our customers. Some of them delayed their production, which delayed a need for us. Some of that was political, with many of our customers exporting parts to other parts of the world. The U.S. Congress, the State Department and Commerce Department decide if these products can be exported to these countries. So, that portion of our business can fluctuate because of political unrest. The slowdown we experienced, for the most part, was because of political uncertainty not demand.
SBJ: The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement was secured recently. How did the U.S. fair?
Gentry: I think it’s going to be good for electronics. There are a lot of people in our industry that operate in Mexico. That’s primarily U.S. companies with operations in Mexico, with primary U.S. consumption. As long as we are on good terms and trade can freely flow between the U.S. and Mexico, that’s a good thing. Canada, to a lesser extent, does subcontracting for U.S. companies. Canada is basically a smaller version of the United States. People don’t go to Canada for cheaper electronics.
Editor’s note: Gentry currently serves on the Ozarks Technical Community College Board of Trustees.
SBJ: When it comes to workforce development, it’s been said Springfield has a people problem, not a skills problem. Are you having a hard time finding people?
Gentry: We all know unemployment is low, and depending on the skills, there is a great need. We work very closely with OTC to try to fill those skills gaps. The curriculum OTC has – whether it be some of its certificate programs or associate degrees – is specific for companies, which they have been doing for us since the first days OTC opened. That helps to fill that skills gap.
SBJ: What does Springfield need in order to attract more manufacturing?
Gentry: It’s well known, with unemployment very low, there are organizations – the (Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce) is one of them – trying to figure out how to get workers to move to Springfield. It’s that chicken and the egg: Do you attract more industry and the workers come? Or do you bring workers and industry follows? It goes back to having a prepared workforce. The best way to attract industry is to sell them on the fact that your community can support them.
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