US Manufacturing Growing Faster Than National Economy

The latest ThomasNet Industry Market Barometer survey reveals that manufacturers, service providers and distributors are reinventing themselves—and taking advantage of the Internet to get ahead.

The economic recovery for the US industrial sector is outpacing the national economy, according to new results from ThomasNet’s second Industry Market Barometer. Stock image illustrating SMB manufacturing Of the 1,176 industrial professionals responding to the Barometer survey, 27% report that their businesses grew during the second half of 2009. That’s up from the 17% reporting growth during the first half-year. The difference represents a 59% rate of growth. Comparatively, the US gross domestic product (GDP) expanded at 5.6% in the fourth quarter, and just 2.2% in the third.

In addition, supporting an upturn for this sector, fewer respondents report a decline in their business from the first to the second Barometer (54% to 41%).

Survey respondents who report growth cite two top strategies: 1) selling into new industries (36%) and 2) introducing new products or services (33%). When asked what part product development will play in their 2010 plans, two-thirds (62%) of the 1,176 respondents say that if it isn’t important, it is critical.

Most respondents (71%) say their online strategy is also important or critical for 2010. For example, an emphasis on online sales programs has already  proven successful for Liberty Industries, a manufacturer and distributor of clean room and contamination control supplies for organizations such as NASA. Liberty’s website delivers 40% of the company’s total sales, attracting customers who would have otherwise never discovered or considered them in the past. “These businesses are showing exceptional strength, resilience and innovation,” said Eileen Markowitz, President of ThomasNet. “Industry is gearing up for a strong comeback. Those who are succeeding are combining creativity with cutting edge technology strategies.”

Most respondents to the ThomasNet Industry Market Barometer represent the backbone of the industrial/manufacturing sector, small businesses.  Seventy-one percent work at companies with fewer than 50 employees, and about 70% report revenues of under $10 million. Other respondents include major global manufacturers. Consistent with the first Industry Market Barometer, the top challenge to growth across all respondents, regardless of size, remains how to cope with customers who are cutting back or going out of business. Indeed, new product development and seeking entry to new industries are not limited to those businesses that have grown.

“We’re becoming more future-focused, and more strategic, in our outreach to clients,” said Bob Kaiser, President, Liberty Industries. “By watching customer demand, we’re able to identify emerging markets, and develop new extensions to our product lines.” Kaiser is like most respondents (65%) who remain optimistic about a recovery in the year ahead, projecting that their companies will see growth by June 2010. The remainder don’t expect losses; rather,
30% expect business to stay the same.

Given their own penchant for innovation, it’s no surprise that when asked who their role models are, many respondents show admiration for visionaries like Apple’s Steve Jobs. Asked whose management style they admire most, they frequently name Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Many volunteer that they are
most inspired by their own fathers and grandfathers. §