Nearly half of Wisconsin manufacturers say their business remains down, according to new survey results released Thursday, Feb. 25, by Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP) Manufacturing Solutions, a not-for-profit manufacturing consulting firm that caters to small and midsize manufacturers across the state.

The survey found 22% of manufacturers reported their business down "significantly" compared to a normal year, and 17% said business was still "down somewhat."

Only 8% of respondents said business was "down greatly," a marked improvement from October when 18% of manufacturers were still reporting large declines in revenue.

Alternatively, nearly 40% of manufacturers said their business was up to some degree.

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George Bureau, vice president of consulting services for WMEP, said that split shows an "uneven" recovery.

"We have some manufacturers that are actually too busy that are having challenge(s) getting product out the door, and some that are OK, and ... a few that aren't doing so well," Bureau said.

Twenty percent said business was up "somewhat," while 14% reported business being up "significantly." Only 5% said business had picked up "greatly."

Sixteen percent of respondents said their business was about the same as past years.

The results were released Thursday at WMEP's Manufacturing Matters conference, which was held virtually. The latest survey was conducted between Feb. 8 and Feb. 19, and included the responses of about 100 Wisconsin manufacturing businesses.

Top concerns of some businesses, according to the survey results, included their ability to handle increasing demand, worries about future COVID-19 outbreaks and concerns about demand falling in the future.

Todd Lassanske, general manager of McFarlane Manufacturing in Sauk City, said his main concern hasn't changed much since before the pandemic: finding enough workers to fill openings at the company.

"We have the opportunities for solid-paying jobs, we just don't have the people at the door," Lassanske said. "That workforce development is by far our biggest challenge."

More than a quarter of respondents said finding and keeping employees was their top concern in February's survey, more than any other issue.

Eighty-six percent of manufacturers said their business outlook was either somewhat or very positive, the highest that number has been since the start of the pandemic. In April 2020, only 41% had a somewhat or very positive business outlook.

A little less than two-thirds of manufacturers expect it will take their business between three months and a full year to normalize once COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

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