NAM Survey: 2018 Marks Highest Year of Manufacturer Optimism on Record

by Michael Shapiro, NAM

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NAM) — The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) recently released the results of the Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey for the fourth quarter of 2018, which shows manufacturers’ optimism for the year reached the highest level on record in the 20-year history of the survey. On average this year, 92.4 percent of manufacturers surveyed reported a positive outlook for their companies.

The inability to attract and retain a quality workforce remained manufacturers’ top concern (68.2 percent) in the fourth quarter, followed by increased raw material costs and trade uncertainties. The workforce shortage has forced more than one in four manufacturers surveyed to turn down new business opportunities. According to the latest government data, there are now 522,000 open manufacturing jobs in the United States (an all-time high). A new report from The Manufacturing Institute—the NAM’s social-impact arm—and Deloitte projects that 2.4 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled over the next decade.

Highlights from the fourth quarter survey include the following:

  • The majority of manufacturers (88.7 percent) have a positive outlook of their businesses, putting the average for 2018 at 92.4 percent—the highest annual average in the survey’s 20-year history.
  • Optimism among small manufacturers remained high at 87.9 percent.
  • Manufacturers predict strong growth rates in employee wages (2.3 percent), capital investments (2.6 percent) and sales (4.3 percent) over the next 12 months.
  • Attracting and retaining a quality workforce remained manufacturers’ top concern (68.2 percent).
  • The inability to attract a quality workforce has forced more than one in four manufacturers to turn down new business opportunities.
  • Increased raw material costs and trade uncertainties marked the second- and third-largest challenges for manufacturers, at 65.1 percent and 60.4 percent, respectively.

“This year was one for the record books, with manufacturers’ average optimism for 2018 hitting an all-time high,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons. “Empowered by tax reform and regulatory certainty, manufacturers are keeping our promise to expand our operations, hire new workers and raise wages and benefits. But as this survey also shows, we face challenges, most seriously the workforce crisis. We have more than half a million jobs to fill right now—and by 2028, as many as 2.4 million could go unfilled if we don’t equip more Americans to take on these high-tech, high-paying careers.”

Conducted by NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray, the Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey has surveyed the association’s membership of 14,000 large and small manufacturers on a quarterly basis for the past 20 years to gain insight into their economic outlook, hiring and investment decisions and business concerns.

The NAM releases these results to the public each quarter. Further information on the survey is available here.

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