Stylized Chicago skyline

Manufacturing’s Springtime is Coming. Are you Ready?

Nov. 15, 2021
Preparing now for growth requires some faith, but the potential rewards are great.

As a lifelong Chicagoan, I’m often pleased that so many people comment on how much they like my hometown. In those conversations, however, one thing keeps coming up—winter. Each year, we face the potential for snow measured in feet, temperatures plummeting below zero and a wind whipping through the city like a zephyr. We also face the potential this pattern can repeat throughout the season. And repeat. And repeat.

While there’s no denying that winter in Chicago can be challenging, I do remind people that it is winter that makes me appreciate spring just that much more. It is the shared experience of having survived yet another Chicago winter that brings us out of hibernation in March for a green Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day and the enthusiasm around starting the baseball season again.

We have spent the last two years in a long, tough winter. I’m seeing signs that the thaw is breaking. We are moving closer to a return to springtime for American manufacturing and, by extension, a strong return to global manufacturing growth.

Three specific signs of spring for manufacturing are out there:

  • Manufacturing remains robust despite its struggles. We have seen processes disrupted by the global pandemic, supply chains fractured and the labor force looking for a more flexible and lucrative workplace. The monthly PMI manufacturing index remains 20% above its growth level despite all of these issues. Solving any one of these problems could drive even greater growth. Fixing all three could push growth to unimagined levels.
  • The long-promised infrastructure bill has finally been passed, creating more than $1 trillion in public sector spending and the likelihood of trillions more in private sector investment to take advantage of the rebuilding effort. And the rebuild itself, long overdue, will lead to further growth.
  • The drive to a digital plant is accelerating. Major vendors and small start-ups are leading us to a truly connected process that can create a safer, smarter and more efficient workplace and a better finished product for consumers.

The key decision now to be made is whether to just hunker down and wait for the thaw, or to dig out and clear the way for a new season. While I understand that people want to see signs that things are warming up before increasing the manufacturing investment, it’s also a mistake not to be better prepared to embrace the coming future.

This requires some faith, and that too has been a commodity in short supply. Yet history shows us that those who prepare now for growth will best be able to catch it the moment it arrives.

There is one other truth about Chicago’s seasons—we often joke that there really are only two seasons—winter and road construction. After this winter, that old saw may become truer than ever.

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