Manufacturing technology producers greet recent economic news with cautious optimism
According to a statement issued Aug. 4 by the Association For Manufacturing Technology (AMT), manufacturing technology suppliers reacted with cautious optimism over reports that Ford posted the first sales gain in two years and that U.S. manufacturing activity slowed less than expected in July. But that's not to say that tough times are over for the manufacturing industry.
"This country's manufacturing sector shrunk at the lowest rate in a year. That's hardly great news!" insisted Doug Woods, president of AMT. "While we hope the July numbers represent a slowdown to the freefall our members have suffered over the past year, there is still a very long road ahead before most of them breathe easier.
"The end to 19 consecutive months of decline in automotive sales that July's sales figures represent is like a loud crack in the ice at the beginning of the spring thaw," Woods added. "While AMT welcomes the success of the Cash-For-Clunkers program, it can't go on forever the auto industry will not turn around overnight."
Most experts agreed that the Ford turnaround could be largely attributed to the wildly popular Cash-For-Clunkers program. AMT Board member Kim Beck, president of Automatic Feed in Napoleon, Ohio, supports the U.S. government's Cash-For-Clunkers program, but stresses that more needs to be done for small manufacturers. His small, third-generation company has been supplying coil handling and other equipment to the automotive industry for 50 years. In the past year, his work force has dwindled by 75 percent and business has fallen off dramatically.
"My customers still lack the confidence and credit to invest in new equipment," Beck said. "Real work needs to be done in Washington now in order to save America's small manufacturers.
"It should notbe on the backs of American small businesses that Congress overhauls the healthcare system and strives for energy independence," emphasized Beck. "Likewise, Congress shouldtarget future programs aimed at stimulating the economy to where they will have the greatest impact – the manufacturing sector. My company is not even eligible for the vast majority of federal economic stimulus programs."
AMT represents mostly small companies that produce the equipment and systems that make virtually all manufactured products. Historically, it takes several quarters for these companies to feel the positive effects of a pick-up in their customers' business. Compounding the industry's struggles is the fact that about two thirds of AMT's membership has ties to the beleaguered auto industry. Between the first quarters of 2008 and 2009, AMT's members' orders fell 68 percent, sending them into a fight for survival.
"What we really need now is tax relief for small business," Beck went on to say. "Until Congress recognizes that this is the quickest and most effective way to stimulate our economy, true economic growth will remain elusive."
Still, Woods is hopeful. "At least we can see a bottom to this business cycle," he said. "Maybe Ford's long awaited return to profitability and the small headway made in manufacturing foreshadows an end is near to the worst single year decline in our industry's history."