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Year in Review

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on our industry, and the way we conduct business in the future will be forever changed. It was in March of 2020 when our U.S. headquarters in Illinois was told to shutdown to stop the spread of COVID. As an essential manufacturer, we staggered work times, used face masks, and worked from home as much as possible. By the end of 2020, we were looking forward to the end of quarantines and social distancing. Now, as we approach the two-year anniversary of the shutdowns, we are reassessing what "business as usual" is going to mean in the era of COVID.

As members of the Illinois Manufacturers Association (IMA), we virtually attended their annual meeting regarding economic forecasts, industry trends, supply chain issues, and workforce challenges. Not surprisingly, our issues and observations were not much different from those of our fellow Illinois manufacturers. For the U.S., 2021 saw real GDP growth of 5 1/2% with 25% growth in the S&P 500. We had a good year, too. However, the industry trends were more interesting. 50% of companies said they want to expand their supplier base. 30% wanted shorter supply lines, 20% want to raise their inventory levels as a hedge against supply chain disruptions. Just-in-Time inventory is dead for the next two years. Companies are contemplating more onshoring. As a Made in USA manufacturer, this bodes well for us.

But there are other challenges. One of the speakers mentioned a 15-20% no-show rate on workers. It could be due to disinterest, low wages, COVID fears, or lack of childcare. If automation is the solution to the worker shortage, that will be a boon to our industry.

Other challenges include the lack of truck drivers. We felt that pain. We had our overseas container shipment 10 miles from the plant with no local transportation available to deliver it. Although the recent passing of the infrastructure bill will provide stimulus, it might pull more truck drivers into construction jobs.

Tradeshows were either virtual or cancelled completely, making it harder to interact with customers. While in-person events are slowly being scheduled, many customers and staff are wary of travel. Concern about borders being closed has made international travel extremely limited.

Like other companies, we had staff resignations, supply line disruptions, parts shortages, cost increases, and COVID restrictions. It has taken time, but we are almost fully re-staffed. We have redesigned around long-lead time components. Using our subsidiaries, we searched worldwide for critical components in short supply. We have a significant order backlog, but we are looking toward a banner 2022 where we can return to the normal lead-times our customers expect. If we must live with COVID, we will.

We wish you all a healthy and prosperous new year.


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