Manufacturing remains in flux but is growing again

By the time financial markets around the globe started to tumble in October 2008, so much of the manufacturing industry was already deep in a recession that had stretched across the better part of a decade. Millions of workers had been sent home. Thousands of factories had been shuttered. Whole companies just disappeared. None of it was coming back. It was gone for good.

Manufacturing was not, of course, the only industry hit hard prior to the start of the larger recession, but perhaps no industry was affected more since the turn of the millennium. About a quarter of a million manufacturing jobs were lost over the course of a decade, the large majority of them prior to 2008. As the recession spread from one industry to another, manufacturers often still let go of the most employees.

The cycle was vicious, and it continued month after month.

How is it possible, then, that less than two years after the economy turned, manufacturing is on the rise again? Manufacturing activity increased again in May, according to the Supply Management’s index, the 10th straight month of growth. And even though that growth has started to slow a bit, growth is still growth. Were the 2008 levels just so low that any growth is significant? Or is the sustained increase in manufacturing a sign for the rest of the economy? Nothing is certain, but all indicators do point up, however modest, rather than down.

“It’s really an opportunity, after you’ve survived the last two years and you’ve streamlined your business, to leverage off of those hard decisions you had to make and to figure out how to do business better,” says John Fenton, partner of assurance services, BDO Seidman LLP. “Do you want to go back to normal, where you were two years ago? Or do you want to build off the efficiencies you’ve already gained?”