It’s been a year, folks. Sure, every year presents its own unique challenges and employs us to sharpen up our traversing skills when it comes to running our organization and keeping up with industry related trends – but man, 2020 was an absolute whale, wasn’t it?
The obvious wrench in the spokes was the global pandemic, which really set the course of figuring out how to best operate with internal and external uncertainties abound. All that said, things aren’t all grim. A report from Statista recently showed a 54.8% increase in United States manufacturing output at the close of quarter three, which followed up a 46.7% decrease in quarter two. So, there is some net gain there. But, we won’t have a clear idea of the entire picture for quite some time – even following the release of quarter four’s figures.
All that said, it’s easy to take a look at reports and read into widely released stats, but, those never really tell the whole story. It’s good to have intel, but, sometimes just staring at numbers doesn’t really tell the whole story. So, in the spirt of that, we reached out to our community here at the Gateway and have hear from a handful of our collective New England manufacturers who share their own thoughts on what 2020 hit them with, what was learned, and what the future might hold. Sometimes hearing from your peers is the best study on how we can move forward as an industry.
KV Tooling Systems, LLC
We have had an up and down year. Overall we are down 30% over 2019. But lately we are rebounding.
COVID has been rough for manufacturers, especially in Aerospace. We have been lucky in that our customer base is pretty broad, so we have not taken as big of a hit as some. We bought a new facility to prepare for the growth we expect to see in the coming year. We fully expect manufacturing to grow due to pent up demand and continuing to keep steady due to manufacturers wanting to keep their supply chain close to home. We are positioning ourselves for that spike.
We bought a 4000sf former warehouse that we are adapting for our needs. This will almost triple our space and allow us to serve more customers and more work for our existing base.
Some challenges we face are, as always, finding good help.
The MuShield Company
2020 has been a rollercoaster ride to say the least. If anything, this year has taught us that our workforce, and company as a whole, are resilient. Even when forced to work inefficiently (either remotely or with a limited staff), we had a successful year and have a backlog well into 2021. In 2021 though, we will face more uncertainty with the results of the Presidential Election. As of mid-November, we don’t definitely know who our President will be in January, so what does that mean for government spending over the next few months? Again, the “tough skin” that we built up over the last 7+ months should help us ride this new wave of uncertainty and still allow for us to be a profitable and growing company, though it does limit our long term planning since our country’s leadership is in question and the Coronavirus looks like it may stick around for a bit.
Vice President-Sales and Marketing
2020 has been an interesting year for many reasons. It isn’t worth stating the obvious about the pandemic and recession, but for the HORST Engineering Family of Companies, we have faced specific challenges related to our primary industry, aerospace manufacturing.
The health impacts of the COVID-19 have been at the forefront of our reaction and planning. We know that our employees, their families, our customers, our suppliers, and everyone connected with our business has been impacted in some way. We have instituted many best practices to keep our work environment safe. We are proud to be part of an essential industry and have taken that responsibility seriously. We have worked hard to make the best of the situation.
Our sector was already approaching a cyclical peak after a seven year run of success. It was also feeling the impact of Boeing’s woes, primarily because of the 737MAX problems. The trickle-down effect in commercial aerospace helps in a bull market and hurts in a bear market. Boeing’s issues were hurting the entire industry. Our customers have suffered a massive reduction in business volume. No amount of diversification could insulate you from feeling some pain. Many shops in the supply chain have a mix of commercial and defense aerospace business, but the growth engine in recent years was on the commercial side.
We were so busy in 2019, and as late as February 2020, that there was no capacity in our supply chain. Everyone was working flat out as global air travel looked to keep growing. So, given the circumstances, the change has been dramatic. We went from full on growth mode to being forced to adjust our business to the new reality and shift into cost reduction mode.
For our business, we are also in the middle of the largest project in our 74 year history. We are renovating a new plant site and moving three smaller Connecticut operations/sites under one roof. Our headquarters has been at the same location since 1950. This project has been underway since mid-2018. Between the site search, acquisition, financing, design, and renovation, we are fully committed to the project, and the actual move is still ahead of us. We will execute the next phase of our plan in 2021. Until March, this was an “expansion.” In many respects, we are still growing, even if that isn’t measured by sales and earnings. We are growing in other ways as we reposition for the future. The building project isn’t just generational, it is multi-generational.
One thing that hasn’t changed is our core purpose. “We help people fly safely.” Despite what some people think, incredible quality is a differentiator and a competitive advantage. We have made it clear to everyone on Team HORST that now is not the time to let quality slip, but rather, it is our chance to make things even better.
Fortunately, we are a family owned business and have always taken the long view. Simply put, the way we have operated our business for decades is what prepared us to weather the challenges of 2020. The storm isn’t over yet, but we continue to press forward and look to the future. When you work at a company that has been through so much, you are capable of getting through a lot. It’s disappointing to take a step back, but we are finding ways to invest in new technology, develop new processes, enhance skills, increase our kaizen activity, and drive continuous improvement.
With the opportunity to look towards a new home in 2021, and a 75th anniversary, we have big goals to accomplish. We could have never predicted that 2020 would be this way and have been in reaction mode for much of it, but we will come out of this stronger.
President and CEO
Yankee Casting Co., Inc.
2020 has been a year of ups and downs.
The whole COVID thing I feel is way overblown. I’m 71 and have worked fulltime through it all. Our business early on separated employees and stressed personal hygiene and personal responsibility. It worked… Anyone that contracted it had very mild cases… something the news media never broadcasts enough! We told employees to stay out if they were feeling sick and we would make it up to them… that’s the responsibility and hygiene part.
We kept our employment level and actually increased some through mid-year. In the last month it’s all catching up to us. We have furloughed people on and off.
New work we expected to get in the commercial aerospace end didn’t come through because that industry has been hit hard. However we are developing future work in that field because the primes want us developed as a new vendor due to issues in the past with other vendors.
I can’t say how much the PPP by the government helped us and others. I’m just worried if we get new leadership in this country, they will go back to their old ways of vilifying business and looking at us as a revenue source. Business needs profitability so we can provide better healthcare coverage, improve working conditions, and make inroads into resolving and improving environmental issues.
There you have it. We appreciate the insight very much and hope that it’s useful to all of our readers as we collectively (and individually) look to turn the page on 2020 and hope for a prosperous and safe(r) 2021! By propping each other up and lending a helping hand where it makes sense, we’ll only be stronger as an industry and as a regional powerhouse within the manufacturing world. If you have any stories to share at any time, we’d love to hear from you. Share any and all things on your mind to firstname.lastname@example.org.