Not too long ago, the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) released a report called the “Small Business Optimism Index” for the month of July. In this index, ten different items are measured to establish an overall measurement of the confidence of small businesses have in the economy. In the month of July, six out of ten of the index’s criteria saw improvements, with one holding still and three others experiencing a slight dip.
Bill Dunkelberg, Chief Economist of the NFIB, stated that “expectations for business conditions and outlook for expansion accounted for virtually all of the net gain in July’s index.” In short, more small businesses are expecting that now is the time to expand, with many feeling that the economy will improve soon.
The NFIB report mentioned above was one of the key focuses of a CNBC interview featuring Marlin Steel’s company president, Drew Greenblatt.
The Canary in the Coal Mine (Proverbially Speaking)
In answer to what he thought about the current state of small business in America, and how the increase in confidence among small businesses has affected Marlin Steel, Drew stated that: “we’re very optimistic, we’re very bullish, we think that the economy’s coming back. We’re like the canary in the coal mine; when people start buying big two-million dollar washing machines and $2-$4 million dollar cleaning systems for their precision parts, people buy the baskets from us.”
As a result of the increased confidence in the future of the economy among small businesses, Marlin Steel has seen a significant increase in activity from pharmaceutical, medical, and automotive industry clients.
The Best Six Months in Marlin’s History
In the interview, Drew describes the recent upsurge in business as the best six months in the company’s history. Thanks to the increase in business that comes with an increase in the willingness of businesses to invest in the future, Marlin Steel has added new jobs and even made a few other investments.
Considering that Marlin Steel has been featured in the Inc. 5000 list in both 2012 and 2013, to say that the last six months have been the best in the company’s history is a significant statement.
Since the beginning of this year, Marlin Steel has filled six new jobs, including an engineer, a machinist, and a shipper, as well as three robot operators to help manage and maintain the automated manufacturing equipment used in creating custom metal forms. These jobs are not menial, part-time positions that only pay minimum wage. These new jobs are true careers with benefits, chances for advancement, bonuses, and a fair wage.
One of the robots that these new operators will be using is Marlin Steel’s brand new 4-headed welder from IDEAL welding systems. This welding machine is the most expensive robot Marlin has ever acquired, and represents this company’s own confidence in the future of the industry.
The Challenges that Remain
Despite the increase in optimism among small businesses in the future of the economy, there are still some challenges to overcome. During the CNBC interview, the interviewer brought the discussion around to the matter of how companies are having a hard time filling the technical positions that they need to fill in order to grow and succeed.
It is true that at this time, there is a massive skills gap in American manufacturing. Manufacturing businesses need workers who have the skills required to read, understand, and create blueprints, who can understand mathematical terms and make calculations. Without these personnel to fill technically-oriented manufacturing jobs, manufacturers have a much more difficult time filling orders quickly and efficiently.
Currently, these skilled workers simply aren’t being produced from our education system at a rate that allows manufacturers to fill all of their critical jobs. This is one of the reasons why Marlin Steel employs a job skills board and actively encourages current employees to become qualified on new machines and processes. This way, Marlin Steel can have some redundancy in the workforce so that the absence of a single employee doesn’t cripple our ability to produce, and our workers can gain the skills they need to be successful in other manufacturing jobs.
Overall, with the increase in investments in the future among small businesses, manufacturers such as Marlin Steel are seeing an increase in business. Hopefully, as more businesses make more investments, the economy will continue to improve. In order to make the most of it, however, we need to encourage young people who are going to college for their higher education to pursue engineering degrees and other technical degrees that will allow them to fill the hundreds of thousands of available job openings which manufacturing companies need to fill.