2006 Manufacturing Survey

Once again, food safety is manufacturers’ No. 1 concern - but Osama, Katrina and Reddy Kilowatt are out there, too.

By David Feder, Managing Editor

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One Connecticut processor is planning for future disaster: "[We are] reevaluating our data security systems and working with property management to ensure the safety of our on premise assets. Also, [planning] what to do in case we have to close up and relocate a large portion of these assets, and see how prepared are we to do that without losing too much money."

A new question on the survey concerns recycling and other green issues. It was thus a pleasant surprise to learn almost two-thirds of manufacturers have some recycling program in place. In fact, another 17 percent claim to be "aggressively" recycling. Just over 8 percent aren't recycling yet, but plan to in 2006.

So, how are those surveyed "going green?" Wastewater and other waste material reuse and recycling is popular. Along those lines was the processor who went beyond end use to "making sure byproducts are recyclable." Another creative answer was "putting plants throughout the company." Not a bad idea. Some plants, such as English Ivy, can clean up to 94 percent of the pollutants from ambient air.

Reduction of hazardous production and cleaning materials and practices also came into play, as did packaging redesigns. Help is out there for those wanting to become more environmentally responsible. One wise suggestion we received recommended "working with governing bodies and consultants to take advantage of incentive programs offered by PUD [the public utilities district] and gas suppliers."

Safe and secure

Keeping workers and production safe and secure is important, as is just plain keeping workers. Some good news on the labor front this year is that only 5 percent of manufacturers polled plan to cut jobs. Another 12 percent will simply not replace lost workers in 2006, and 44 percent are standing pat. For those seeking jobs, 28 percent of manufacturers are adding to their workforce. "[There is] a shortage of people who want to work in this industry because of the long hours and average pay," complained a processor of fruits and vegetables in Arkansas.

Although finding workers in general seemed to be an echoing concern, the need for skilled labor in supporting services wasn't ignored. "Finding qualified maintenance mechanics and electricians to handle increasingly sophisticated lines without extensive training," was the labor need expressed by a Massachusetts candy manufacturer.

"Generally, we believe talent is available within the industry, it's just that not all companies will tap into it," said Grant Thornton's Maurer. "Companies will need to look harder and smarter to find employees, particularly management level, and that involves comprehensive recruiting, interviewing and pre-hire training programs. Additionally, this industry, like all others, will continue to look for greater levels of productivity from the existing workforce - a given in today's cost-competitive climate - and that will only come via strong workforce training and education programs."

All in all, the outlook for the food industry looks good for the coming year, and we look forward to having this prediction confirmed in our next survey. We had a fantastic response to this year's survey and wish to thank all who contributed. Your insight into the shape of things to come in food and beverage manufacturing is invaluable.

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