Manufacturers Look at the New Decade

This article appeared in the January 2020 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

It’s a new decade but what does that mean for Michigan’s most essential economic sector? Is manufacturing going to continue to rise or will we see a slow-down or, worse, another downward trend? And, most importantly, what can your business do about it?

MMA reached out to leading manufacturers from across the state to ask them about what’s on the horizon as they prepare for the 2020s. Find out what they said and how your business can thrive over the next 10 years:

Q: What will the next decade look like for industry?

Jon DeWys: Manufacturing is at a crucible heading into the next decade. Finding employees to support a growing business model continues to get more challenging. The K-12 and Community Colleges are doing amazing things to attract the next generation into manufacturing careers but yet there still is a gap in getting students to sign up.

Companies are offsetting the lack of finding talent by making huge investments in automation, especially in the area of collaborative robots. Companies that are not truly investing in their workforce are going to lose out. Now more than ever is manufacturing’s best chance to expand; they just need to put the money where their mouth is. When they do, they will succeed.

Phil Sponsler: We are going to be able to do things we never thought possible. Cutting-edge technologies offer opportunities for manufacturers to experience wildly new and improved ways to make their products. The game-changing advances in technology, communication and data will transform everything from how we make things to what manufacturing jobs are available. The future is almost limitless.

Jeff Daniel: Exciting times are in front of us. Whether it’s autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, robots, cloud-based technology or any of the other many game-changing items — they can all impact our industries and businesses. Interest rates and energy prices continue to be low and our economy continues to be strong. The current available technology can significantly reduce our cost, provide better and timely data to all our employees. There is a lot to be excited about!

Q: Is there one area of technology, one type of talent skill, or one critical way of thinking that manufacturers need to develop or locate to hit its peak potential in the next decade?

Mike LaBrake: It is critical that you work with your suppliers as an engineering source. With the speed of technology advancement, it’s too difficult for your in-house staff to be experts in all areas. Build close relationships with your suppliers and use their knowledge in specific areas to advance your products.

Jeff Metts: Technology is wonderful and it will continue to develop in the days ahead. If we fell asleep today and woke up 10 years from now, we would surely have a difficult time recognizing the world. However, I would be willing to bet that, at their core, people have remained the same. This is where we need to excel. We need to become the developers of people. We need to teach them how to think critically and how to be strong leaders in their work, their family and in the community. At Dowding, it’s no longer about hiring someone because they can do this task or that task. We need people who fit our culture. A culture that works is a very powerful ally and will keep success in constant focus.

Jeff Daniel: Use technology to address your organization’s biggest gaps in the market; do not get distracted with the latest new tech. Create a culture where change is the norm and it is acceptable to fail. I like to say ‘Let’s be fast, implement it fast, fail fast and fix it fast.’ Too many organizations try to be perfect, lose momentum and never fully finish a project. Focus on your resources and hire the best you can find — technology only works if your team can implement and use it.

Q: What are the biggest challenges or game-changers that could affect how manufacturers do business in the next 10 years?

Jennifer Thieme Kehres: Technology is the game changer; it is growing and changing and improving at a breakneck speed. It challenges us to continuously look for a better way and how to incorporate more technology into our products and manufacturing processes.

Jon DeWys:: Attracting new talent into manufacturing careers in a way that doesn’t showcase them as ‘jobs’ but as careers of limitless potential.

Phil Sponsler: One of the biggest challenges will be the possibility of an increasingly negative and unsupportive government through the crush of regulations. The challenge of just building awesome products and remaining competitive is made so much harder. Additionally, if the instability of global economies increases and trade wars continue, we expect to see more re-shoring to North American facilities. This re-shoring increase will demand resources that we currently lack which will put a higher demand on automation to develop the product.

Q: How can manufacturers prepare to succeed in the 2020s?

Jon DeWys: Continual investment in talent (trainers, curriculum, workforce development), latest in leading edge technology, and staying humble. Also, be willing to follow your aspirations — even when others may question them. Some may call it foolish, but if you know that there is a better way to do something, be willing to keep trying until it works.

Jeff Metts: I feel that is easy...culture. With the next generation in line to take over, it will take a different culture to drive success. Most of us involved in manufacturing today came up with the proverbial carrot and stick type of supervision. Those days are now in the past. People today desire to belong. Belong to a family or a cause. To be a part of something bigger than themselves. We need to become more transparent, more inclusive and definitely more communicative. They must understand we all win together.

Jacob Sponsler: The opportunities that the tremendous advances in technology are going to provide will also be one of the largest challenges. Even if manufacturers don’t see absolute need for implementing the evolving advanced technologies for today’s production, they need to be engaged and working to understand them thoroughly. If they aren’t working to stay current, they risk being left behind and becoming obsolete. All of this as well as the advances in communication and data will change the customer/vendor dynamic. Higher transparency and a greater level of collaboration will be the norm.

Q: What do manufacturers need to do to remain ahead of the curve in a changing industry?

Phil Sponsler: Manufacturers are a resilient breed who can weather almost any storm. Those who work hard to minimize future worries through solid countermeasures will come out ahead. They need to invest in their people, products and processes. It’s also important they stay aware of risks relating to cyber security and locating the right people. This will remain a top concern in the next decade and both can be offset by investing in your security and culture.

Jeff Daniel: We need trained resources to build the product, implement the technology and drive our companies into the future. I worry about our company culture and employees the most. At PVS, we focus on how to engage our employees, attract and hire the best talent, and clearly communicate the company’s goals and initiatives. I firmly believe we need a highly trained team of engaged employees to implement and take advantage of all the exciting new technology.

Q: What is one piece of advice you’d give to help manufacturers be ready for the next decade of manufacturing?

Mike LaBrake: Be able to offer top notch service for your products. It can be the feature that differentiates you from your competitors.

Jon DeWys: Focus on an employee’s overall well-being; physical is important but more important is their mental well-being. There is a lot of strife in our world and people need to know that we truly care about their personal, professional, financial and mental well-being.

Phil Sponsler: There is a shortage of great servant leaders. The next generation of manufacturers will demand leadership that is competent, consistent, value-based and able to inspire a shared vision. Understanding your people and being able to elevate their shortcomings is paramount to making your team a lifelong team.

Jeff Daniel: Change is going to happen and there is no stopping the recent trends. Learn to encourage change and engage your employees at all levels. The future is all about having the resources and a company culture that will embrace technology and drive change.

Next Steps for Your Business

There’s a lot to be excited about as the next decade begins, but challenges still remain. It’s essential that small and mid-sized manufacturers maximize investments into new technologies and talent development, improve efforts to obtain a winning culture and keep an eye on concerns like cyber security and emerging global competitors. Are you ready for the next decade of manufacturing?

Search for resources, advocacy assistance, educational opportunities and strategic business services here at or contact MMA’s Elizabeth Maciejewski, at or 517-487-8542, with questions.

Contact Brett Gerrish

Brett GerrishCommunications Coordinator
Call 517-487-8533