Before the pandemic, a help-wanted sign outside Premier OEM's rotational molding facility in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, could bring 15-20 job applicants in a week from the 22,000 vehicles passing by every day.
Business was good for the manufacturer of parts and accessories for off-road vehicles.
Sales of roofs, luggage boxes, in-dash stereo systems and premium coolers were growing 10-15 percent a year and had reached about $15.5 million.
After the pandemic was declared, trail riding surged in popularity. COVID-19 nixed indoor gatherings, and social distancing became the norm to reduce the risk of infection.
Business at Premier OEM should be better than ever. And it would be if founder Jim Nagy could fill about 35 vacant positions. He said the labor crunch is costing the business about $7 million this year and company officials are now creating some part-time positions to appeal to more people looking for jobs.
It's a familiar refrain as manufacturers struggle to fill openings and broaden their talent pipelines. The manufacturing industry lost 578,000 jobs during the pandemic-challenged 2020 — a figure that represents nearly six years of job gains, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, at almost any given moment, about 500,000 jobs have remained open in manufacturing, the bureau also says.
By 2030, U.S. manufacturing is expected to have 2.1 million unfilled jobs, according to a May 2021 report from consulting firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd. called "Creating pathways for tomorrow's workforce today."
A lot of the lost and vacant jobs are in the plastics industry, according to Perc Pineda, chief economist for the Washington-based Plastics Industry Association.
"We're no longer an industry with over 1 million workers. That's kind of disappointing," Pineda said during an Aug. 13 online economic update to the mold making division of the plastics association's equipment committee. "Don't feel bad; you're not alone. It was an economywide event that happened last year."
The U.S. plastics industry accounted for more than 1 million jobs and $432 billion in shipments in 2019, the trade association reported last year. At the time, California had the most plastics industry jobs with 79,700.
However, that has changed, too.
"Texas is now the state with the most plastics workers. It's no longer California," Pineda said.
Businesses should expect to pay more to attract, train and retain employees, the economist also said.
"As we look for some sort of guideline, businesses should really factor in about 3.1 percent employment cost higher this year than last year," Pineda said, adding he will go into more detail on the topics on Sept. 21, when the association unveils an updated report on the size and impact of the U.S. plastics industry.