As I write this, our pollster is in the field with the questionnaire for the 2020 edition of our annual State of Manufacturing®(SOM) survey research project.

We launched the SOM some 12 years ago. Despite the considerable costs, we wanted to engage a nationally known pollster who would employ statistically valid data-gathering techniques to help show how Minnesota’s manufacturers would assess the challenges and opportunities they faced in the previous year and to tell us what they expect in the coming one.

As far as we can tell, it was (and is) the only survey of its kind in America. We always augment the objective information of the telephone survey with at least 12 to 15 focus groups that provide more subjective background opinions and explanations. We believed policymakers, community leaders, educators, media—not to mention manufacturers—would all benefit from hard data that transcends mere stereotypes.

Our instincts were good. Every edition of the SOM always seems to exceed expectations. It proved its worth in the very first version, and in some ways helped us shape how we view manufacturing executives. The inaugural SOM hit the field just as the economy had unexpectedly launched a Thelma-and-Louise nosedive into a fear-provoking economic abyss. We were more than a little surprised at the calm resolve with which manufacturers took the news, particularly in the focus groups. We thought they would grouse about their bad luck or point fingers of blame. Instead, they talked about how they could plan around it, perhaps ultimately using the downturn to gain a market advantage.

We’ve realized over the years that the SOM’s significance is how it unveils what’s brewing behind the predictable results. I can tell you right now that (notwithstanding the coronavirus effect) the anxieties of most manufacturers revolve around workforce issues. They’ll also want to talk about the burden of the always-increasing cost of providing health insurance to employees. They’ll wonder about the uncertain effects of global trade constraints. And they’ll speculate about costs related to overzealous government regulations.

Among the considerable talents pollster Rob Autry brings to the SOM is his ability to probe what’s underneath those concerns. How will manufacturers retain the employees they have? How will they attract new ones? What innovations will enable them to bring expertise to their shop floors? What’s the role of automation or even information security? How will they work together with each other, and their communities, to address these issues collaboratively?

This is about the most fun we have every year!

We recently hosted the kickoff planning meeting for the survey—always a worthwhile and entertaining session—in which SOM sponsors kicked around broad themes for the survey as well as ways that might help our pollster maintain his reputation for probing beneath the surface. We are fortunate to have added three companies to this year’s roster of “premier” sponsors:

  • Fafinski Mark & Johnson has offices in Eden Prairie and New Ulm. FMJ’s experienced manufacturing practice team, led by a former general counsel of several iconic Minnesota manufacturers, can solve clients’ legal issues in every phase of manufacturing.
  • Grey Search + Strategy is in the Twin Cities. Grey is an executive search firm with deep experience in manufacturing. The firm is a match maker, not a job filler. It also offers customized consulting services to help manufacturers on-board and retain employees.
  • PROduction Workforce Professionals is headquartered in Detroit Lakes, with offices in Minneapolis, Fargo and Grand Forks. PRO allows manufacturers to focus more on their own business, while the firm’s specialists help with HR management, benefits administration, workers’ comp, safety compliance and workplace wellness.

I also want to recognize and thank the others who have helped us so generously over the years.

  • Bremer Bank has branches throughout Minnesota.
  • DEED has offices throughout Minnesota.
  • Granite Equity Partners is based in St. Cloud with a satellite office in St. Louis Park.
  • King Solutions is headquartered in Dayton.
  • Olsen Thielen CPAs and Advisors has offices in Roseville and Eden Prairie.
  • Widseth has offices in Alexandria, Bemidji, Brainerd/Baxter, Crookston, East Grand Forks, Forest Lake, Grand Forks and Rochester, and it just opened an office in Mankato.

Input into our topics for focus groups is not just limited to our financial sponsors. If you have thoughts about what we should cover, we’re only an email away. Let us know what you think ([email protected]).

Featured story in the Spring 2020 issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine. 

Return to Spring 2020 magazine