More than half of U.S. manufacturers plan to boost capital spending and hire skilled production workers this year, according to a survey released at National Manufacturing Week events in Rosemont.
In another sign of strength, almost three-fourths of respondents said their companies export. Nearly all predicted exports will stay the same or increase this year.
The report, issued March 21 by the National Association of Manufacturers, reflects a U.S. industrial sector that continues to grow in strength.
Even so, NAM President John Engler said manufacturing leaders think their sector will lag the overall U.S. economy this year. The reason: high prices for raw materials and energy, health care, liability and other external costs that are hurting profitability.
A NAM study two years ago showed U.S. industry faced a 22 percent nonwage disadvantage compared with other countries for those costs.
Engler said manufacturers are doing what they can - investing in their plants. ``There's a tremendous sense of urgency on the part of the manufacturers themselves. They're working harder; they're having to work smarter,'' he said. ``They're feeling a lot of pressure.''
Attendees checked out plant engineering equipment, factory control systems, robots and other technology during the four trade shows held during National Manufacturing Week, March 20-23 in Rosemont.
In the survey, 56 percent of the respondents said they plan to increase capital spending this year.
But companies are finding that, as they gear up plants with advanced equipment and computer technology, it's harder to find people with skills to run them, Engler said.
When asked to give an employment outlook, 53 percent of the responding manufacturing officials said their companies will add jobs. Of those planning significant hiring, nearly half - 47 percent - said they are looking for skilled workers.
Engler said the 53 percent figure is higher than the survey issued last year. ``That's a staggering number that represents tremendous opportunity for people in the workforce to raise their incomes, have better opportunities for their families,'' he said.
The former Michigan governor said the U.S. education system has to groom today's factory worker, who needs math and science skills and computer know-how.
Most of the dozen or so plastics processor exhibitors set up booths at the National Design Engineering Show hall in Rosemont. Reaction was mixed to Washington-based NAM's findings on hiring and capital spending.
PTI Engineered Plastics Inc. is holding up the capital-spending trend. The company now is housed in two buildings in Clinton Township, near Mount Clemens, Mich. Construction will begin soon on a new factory, which will include a clean room, in nearby Macomb Township, said Mark Rathbone, chief executive officer.
PTI has purchased four Toyo all-electric injection presses as it moves into electric molding technology, Rathbone said. The company also recently bought three Makino machining centers for its mold-making operation.
Rathbone said PTI has hired a few skilled people, including product-design engineers and computer programmers for tooling.
Stephen Murrill, president of Profile Plastics Corp. of Lake Bluff, Ill., said Profile bought a six-axis router last year to trim its thermoformed parts. Profile has not purchased a new thermoforming machine in the past five or six years, but that's because machines the company added in the late 1990s are still pretty new, he said.
Custom Plastics Inc. of Elk Grove Village, Ill., last added injection presses in 2004, when it picked up five machines, said Vice President Raymond Mendlik. Business has been steady, but officials expect a boost from new products.