Small business executives remain bullish

I have been blessed to be invited to have end-of-year conversations with members of the Council of Small Business Executives board of directors for more than a decade now.

It has always been a terrific way to put my finger on the pulse of what’s happening on the front lines of commerce.

At the height of the Great Recession, COSBE board members lamented having to lay off employees, curtail research and development, cut back on marketing and even close a plant or office. The conversations were accordingly bleak in tone.

By contrast, in December, my conversation with the COSBE directors was far different. One of the most prevailing common challenges facing the COSBE directors is figuring how to find the financing, staffing and resources to accommodate rising demands for their products or services.

To be sure, that’s a vastly more pleasant problem to have!

The need to expand capacity explains why 61 percent of the COSBE board members surveyed by BizTimes expect 2015 to be a “good” year and a robust 30 percent expect it to be a “great” year. The remaining 9 percent are forecasting a “flat” year.

Accordingly, 87 percent are forecasting increased revenues for their companies in 2015, and 61 percent plan to expand their workforce this year. On the side, 65 percent plan to make significant investments in new technology or equipment this year.

Tony Mallinger, president of Waukesha-based Metal-Era Inc., could be a poster boy for this year’s COSBE board. Metal-Era, a commercial roofing products manufacturer, recently added seven new production employees and three regional sales managers, with additional hires expected to meet rising demand in 2015.

“Metal-Era has seen additional growth in 2014 and is preparing for double-digit growth in 2015. Metal-Era is in process of quite a lot of activities to account for additional growth this year. For starters, we have issued purchase orders for around $1 million for several new press brakes, a shear and three new fork trucks that should come in around the first quarter of 2015. The equipment should give us around 25 to 50 percent additional capacity with its respected operations, and the fork trucks will give us the ability to reduce our aisle space from 14 feet to 7 feet, giving us close to 5.000 feet of additional space,” Mallinger said. “One other area we will be focusing on is our continuous improvement efforts, and we will be looking to hire a Continuous Improvement Leader in 2015 which will help us to reduce our processes and eliminate waste.”

In other words, rather than struggling to keep the lights on and the doors open, Mallinger and his team will be focused on increasing capacity and managing rapid growth. Those are refreshing and enviable challenges indeed.

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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