Manufacturers plan to hire, increase sales this year

About 73 percent of Wisconsin manufacturing companies saw an increase in sales in 2012 over the previous year, and 75 percent are forecasting an increase in sales this year, according to Milwaukee manufacturing development organization The Paranet Group.

About 70 Paranet members, most of whom have 100 employees or more, responded to the annual survey.

The survey also found that 70 percent of those surveyed plan to hire hourly workers this year, up from 32.4 percent in 2009. Pay for those hourly workers has risen 3 percent on average.

And 75 percent of respondents plan to hire skilled workers in the first half of the year, up from 47.5 percent in 2009. They still report difficulty finding skilled workers.

Growth appears to be on the horizon, as 85 percent of respondents plan to invest in capital equipment this year and 21 percent plan to make an acquisition.

Most of those surveyed said they plan to “wait and see” on making any major health care plan changes in response to the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. About 63 percent of those surveyed will not make any changes to health care coverage this year.

Respondents also listed challenges for the coming year. The No. 1 challenge is uncertain global economic conditions. Concerns included volatile commodity prices, the strength of the dollar, importing and exporting competitively and fairly, protecting and acquiring patents, cultural differences and the negative effect of weather and natural disasters.

The shortage of skilled labor and sales were also listed as challenges. Economic stability would drive more consumer confidence, leading to increased sales.

Paranet members reported an unexpected softening in the industry in June, which flattened out toward the end of the year, said CEO Linda Kiedrowski. The warmer weather and drought may have contributed to the lull.

The skills gap in the U.S. may push manufacturers to look elsewhere for workers, she said. It’s a problem that could take generations to fix.

Overall, manufacturers are cautiously optimistic about 2013 and their ability to keep moving upward, she said.

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