State of Manufacturing: Obstacles, Opportunites

By James A. D’Agostino, CEO, MEP Center Director

I do not need to remind anyone that the past year was incredibly challenging. A global pandemic and shifting politics were just a couple of the dynamics facing businesses across all industries, including manufacturing. As we emerge from the various shutdowns and restrictions, manufacturing is booming across many key indexes, but manufacturers face a precarious path forward if they intend to not only survive but grow. A path filled with pitfalls and dangers, but one also filled with promise and opportunity.


The global pandemic revealed a hidden issue for many manufacturers: a fractured and overly dependent supply chain. Across the world, we all saw the fragility in our supply chains for critical PPE supplies, military defense components, and raw materials. Years of outsourcing and the pursuit of savings in lower cost countries finally caught up with our nation and revealed the massive void that currently exists. Manufacturers continue to scramble in an effort to obtain necessary raw materials in what seems like a rolling supply chain blackout.

In addition to the fractured supply chains, the past year has also exacerbated a major workforce issue for manufacturers. Despite the increased number of unfilled manufacturing jobs compared to pre-pandemic levels, manufacturers are now competing with fast food businesses and other non-manufacturers for labor. Long-time employees are contemplating resignations and retirements, and first-time employees are faced with an abundance of openings. Manufacturers are having to enhance recruiting and retention programs like never before. On top of all that, the past year has intensified a growing workforce skill gap for manufacturers.  This skill gap is not only threatening manufacturing competitiveness, but it is also creating unwanted shakiness in an economy that is looking to rebound quickly from the global pandemic. Along with high retirement rates, this skill gap is being fueled by mismatched training programs and recruiting shortages.

And if all of that was not enough, the past year exposed many outdated manufacturing technologies and processes that are ill-equipped to provide the necessary boost that companies desperately need for survival and recovery. With a reduced workforce, antiquated machines and processes are not able to run efficiently. Sounds kind of like the perfect manufacturing storm….


With all the challenges facing manufacturers in today’s tumultuous world, the outlook is not all bleak. Each of the aforementioned obstacles represents an important opportunity for manufacturers, and one that can provide a competitive advantage and help define their future success. The fractured supply chains have created a resurgence for “Made in America” products. How will manufacturers respond? Will they reshore products to rebuild their supply chains and help boost local economies? The various workforce challenges have heightened the need for human resources. Will manufacturers respond by further developing their employees, raising wages, and creating more holistic work environments that aim for better attraction and retention? Will manufacturers better define workforce needs and work with training institutions and organizations to develop a robust and sufficient talent pipeline? The myriad workforce challenges have also heightened the need for technology and innovation. Will manufacturers upgrade equipment and processes to better compete with countries that have lower labor costs? Will they invest in new cutting-edge technologies that allow their businesses to innovate and grow?

The next several months will define the future for many manufacturers, whether they realize it now or not. As someone who has spent their entire professional career in manufacturing, I can say without hesitation that manufacturers are more than equipped to navigate the uncertain times ahead. I am confident that those businesses who do invest in their people, processes, equipment, and reshoring will not only experience personal success, but they will also lend a hand to this country’s post-pandemic renaissance.

For more information on how TDO can help you capitalize on key strategic opportunities to move your manufacturing processes forward, please contact: James A. D’Agostino; (315) 425-5144, Ext. 306;;  or visit online at