Followers of Enterprise Minnesota’s State of Manufacturing (SOM) annual survey will find the data from this year’s 15th version released with an innovative new wrinkle, according to Lynn Shelton, the organization’s vice president of marketing and organizational development. Shelton told a recent luncheon gathering of the poll’s platinum sponsors that the release will introduce the poll’s findings by theme and include video commentary from prominent manufacturers.

The SOM annually interviews a statistically valid sample of 535 manufacturing executives statewide to identify challenges and opportunities they see in growth, workforce, supply chain, economic confidence, and more. The surveyed executives represent a broad mix of manufacturers by region, employee count, and annual revenue.

The data will be released on November 9 at the Minneapolis Marriott Northwest.

Pollster Rob Autry, founder of Charleston-based Meeting Street Insights, will again personally present the data publicly as he has for every SOM survey since its founding. But instead of a question-by-question account of the data, he will organize his analysis into a deeper dive by relevant themes.

Shelton says the idea occurred to her when she realized that SOM’s significant innate strength has always been understood by integrating the poll data with how manufacturers reacted to it during the focus groups. “The poll data can tell us what they think,” she says. “The focus groups tell us why.”

She says she initially hesitated to adjust the format of Autry’s presentation because of the “pin drop” attention it receives from attendees each year. “It has always been a captivating presentation,” she says. But Shelton made the final decision after pollster Autry voiced strong enthusiasm for how the new approach would make the poll findings even more relevant. “He’s more excited than I am,” she adds.

Focus groups will take place from Sept. 6-Oct. 12. See our Events page to learn more.

Enterprise Minnesota conceived the SOM 16 years ago as an annual survey research project to enable manufacturers to voice their thoughts and concerns before a broad public audience, notably policymakers and government regulators. It became immediately evident that other thought leaders were attracted to the exclusive information. They include community and civic organizations, the professions (accountants, lawyers, etc.), educators (from elementary through post-secondary, particularly trade schools), and other manufacturers.

To accomplish this with unassailable credibility, Enterprise Minnesota retained Autry, one of America’s top pollsters, who has conducted every SOM survey. The project includes augmenting the objective polling data research with subjective details gathered from a dozen or more focus groups convened throughout the state each year.

Enterprise Minnesota publishes the results in its quarterly magazine along with a generously-circulated book (now published digitally) that contains a complete analysis of the results and full transcripts of each focus group.

Enterprise Minnesota hosts a large public release event during which Autry personally shares the results. Bob Kill, Enterprise Minnesota’s president and CEO, follows this with a dozen or more regional “rollout” events. He then frequently is asked to share the results in testimony to the state legislature, even the U.S. Congress, and through speeches at business and community civic organizations throughout the year.

“The State of Manufacturing has exceeded all expectations,” Shelton says. “It now connects the entirety of Minnesota’s small- and medium-sized manufacturers.” Daily newspapers typically report the results in above-the-fold detail in their print business sections and throughout digital media. The rollouts are attended annually by more than 1,000 people (the Twin Cities event once exceeded 600 people).

A diverse assortment of sponsors has offset the cost of the project and spreads the results and mission among their own exclusive constituencies.

Bob Kill attributes much credit for the ongoing — and increasing — success of the State of Manufacturing to the project’s sponsors, many of whom have supported the project since its inception. They help underwrite the enormous costs related to the project, he says, but more than that have evolved into true stakeholders. Sponsors, who are granted exclusive rights within their own market niche, play a role in publicizing the data to their individualized communities.

“They’re not looking to get broad-based recognition as sponsors as much as find the opportunity to build relationships with manufacturing executives all across the state,” he says.

He added that the poll has helped communities recognize the value that manufacturers bring to their local economies, “including that they provide the best-paying jobs within driving distance.”

Return to the Fall 2023 issue of Enterprise Minnesota® magazine.