It should have surprised no one when we announced that the restrictions around COVID-19 forced us to reschedule the 12th version of our annual State of Manufacturing® (SOM) survey research project to November. The new event will be November 5 at the Earle Brown Heritage Center, two days after the election.
Prior to postponement, our pollster was already well into his interviews with manufacturing executives when we pulled the plug. Still, we knew there would be no way we could convene conducting the 13 focus groups statewide, which were scheduled for three weeks beginning on April 6.
But like the manufacturers we serve, we’re not going to worry about circumstances we can’t control; we have our sights set on things we can control. Moving our SOM event to November will enable us to analyze how Minnesota’s manufacturers worked through one of the most peculiar—and potentially destructive—challenges they have ever faced.
We only have to remember how our first SOM poll helped us at Enterprise Minnesota to develop an even greater full-on admiration for the resilience of Minnesota’s manufacturers. It was January 2009, and our original focus group participants were still figuring out how to respond to the unexpected challenges of the Great Recession. They were ambushed by the speed and severity with which the American economy vaulted into free fall without any warning. Yet manufacturers used our focus conversations to talk to us, and each other, about things they could control. It’s true—several participants had their fingers firmly positioned above the panic button. But others talked about how they intended to take time for training, to develop new product lines, and to improve relationships with customers and along the supply chain. Some even talked about investigating mergers or acquisitions.
At the time, their calm demeanor and strategic outlook blew us all away.
This time might be different. Circumstances might be better, or they might become far worse. No one knows. My guess is that our polling research and focus group interviews in the fall will reveal that most manufacturers didn’t loll around in uncertainty and wait to let circumstances control their prospects.
I, for one, can’t wait to hear about the creative ways that Minnesota’s manufacturers plotted their way out of the weirdness.
And trust me, they’ll tell us! One of the rewarding successes of conducting this survey over the past 12 years has been the depth of trust we’ve earned with the manufacturers who participate in the focus groups, a surprising number of whom have been with us every year. They know we’re in the project solely for information (we’re not trying to sell them anything). They know that we will protect their anonymity. Maybe, best of all, they know that they are going to learn something from other local manufacturers.
It is appropriate, too, to thank all the SOM sponsors, without whom we could not have tackled such an expensive and time-consuming project.
Featured story in the Summer 2020 issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine.