Lynn Shelton

A Virtual Discovery

The Weekly Report – September 21, 2020
Focus groups

It’s amazing how much candor can come out of a one-hour focus group meeting.

Right now, we’re in the middle of conducting our annual State of Manufacturing® survey. The only one of its kind in the nation, the survey gets to the essence of the most important issues facing Minnesota manufacturers.

To get to that essence, we use a two-prong approach. The first prong is the actual survey that many of you have probably seen. Our award-winning pollster, after extensive collaboration with us to develop the most pertinent questions, fans out across the state to query manufacturers.

The other prong, then, is the focus groups. And this is where things have gotten very interesting.

This year’s focus groups, obviously, have looked very different. Whereas in years past we’d convene in conference rooms across the state, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in focus groups migrating to the online meeting platform we’ve all become very familiar with: Zoom.

We wondered how a virtual format might impact the tenor of the focus groups. In the past they’ve been candid, honest, and intimate conversations about the challenges facing manufacturers. But any concerns we may have had disappeared after the first session as manufacturers were just as willing to share their thoughts and feelings about the industry virtually as they were in person.

As some of you may know, we initially embarked on our annual State of Manufacturing last spring. It soon became clear, however, that the pandemic was going to be an unavoidable roadblock to getting them done. So we pushed it back a few months to fall, thinking the delay would allow us to pick the brains of manufacturers who had just been through the initial phase of one of the most unusual and challenging events our country has seen.

Insights coming out of the first half of the focus groups have been nothing short of fascinating.

COVID-19 is still on everyone’s mind, but variations in the impact have been startling. Some manufacturers took substantial hits to their bottom lines. Others saw unexpected double-digit revenue growth. Some saw both: major hits to sectors impacted by supply chain interruptions, and demand spikes in other sectors.

Workforce issues remain top of mind. It’s still a challenge, especially in areas of greater Minnesota where competition is stiff for a limited labor force, to attract and retain good employees. And many have lamented the impact of government aid in keeping people well-paid while unemployed.

But perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of the focus groups is how prevalent the issue of cyber security is becoming.

Several manufacturers told grim tales of substantial financial losses to computer hacking scams that hold company data hostage for ransom. If you thought this form of cyber threat was beyond us, think again; one manufacturer confessed he had just been hacked by ransomware the night before the focus group met. In every focus group so far, manufacturers voiced concern about cyber security. And all but one included manufacturers who have been hit by hacking attempts.

If you’ve ever wanted a one-hour crash course in how high-level manufacturing executives are dealing with workforce or cyber security challenges, or how they’re persevering through adversity, consider sitting in on a focus group. There are several left and it’s not too late to sign up. Participation helps you by learning from the wisdom of other manufactures, helps us get a clear picture of the state of manufacturing, and helps your fellow manufacturers through the robust sharing of ideas and camaraderie.

Our State of Manufacturing findings will be unveiled Nov. 5 at our annual State of Manufacturing event, which this year will be virtual. That’s an event you don’t want to miss.

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Events Calendar

September 10-29 – State of Manufacturing® Focus Groups
Manufacturing executives are invited to participate in the 2020 State of Manufacturing® Focus Groups. Choose a single session that fits your schedule, one hour in length. Online via Zoom  Learn more and register

September 23 – Elements of Managing a High Performing Business: ISO
Expert David Ahlquist will show you how a business management system like ISO can provide the framework to stay in control of your organization and navigate change. Online via Zoom  Learn more and register

October 6 – Strategically Navigating an Uncertain Future
Steve Haarstad, one of Enterprise Minnesota’s top strategy experts, will show you how to create or adjust your business strategy to weather the next 90 days. Online via Zoom  Learn more and register

October 22 – Investing in Your People to Create Leaders at All Levels
Join talent expert Abbey Hellickson as she demonstrates ways to create an environment that fosters trust, leadership and communication throughout your company. Online via Zoom  Learn more and register

See more upcoming events

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Industry News

Enterprise Minnesota® Magazine Fall 2020 edition now available
In the latest issue, we highlight InLine Motion’s pivot to PPE, the value of assessments for manufacturers, interviewed Sen. Bill Weber (R-Luverne), and much more. Sept. 18,  Read more

Stove company pipes for revival in Tower, Iron Range
The Kuuma stove is one of the most efficient wood-burning sauna stoves and furnaces in the world. Its production is fueling a rebirth in the city of Tower. Sept. 16, Duluth News Tribune  Read more

3D printer DI Labs moves to Willmar
The high-tech additive manufacturer has been expanding services, which facilitated a move from Spicer to Willmar, Minn. Sept. 15, Lakeland Broadcasting  Read more

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