Business Operations

In Search for Workers, One Manufacturer Pulls Out the Stops

Marvin, a window and door manufacturer based in Warroad, Minnesota, is looking thousands of miles south to fill job openings (The Wall Street Journal, subscription).

What’s going on: Marvin employs about 700 people at its Warroad location. With older-generation workers retiring at the rate of about one employee a week and a town population that hasn’t grown in decades, the company “came up with a recruitment plan called ‘The Path North,’ which aims to find workers in Puerto Rico and Florida willing to uproot their families and settle in a cold northern town”—but it’s proving a difficult sell, even with generous relocation bonuses and temporary housing.

  • Unemployment in Puerto Rico and Florida is low, so Marvin is fishing for talent in relatively sparsely populated ponds.
  • Of the 115 workers who came from Puerto Rico in the past eight or nine months, just 63 remain at the company.
  • Marvin has 10 other locations throughout North America.

Why it’s important: Marvin’s challenge is emblematic of “manufacturing in America today. The U.S. population is barely growing, baby boomers are exiting the workforce,” many young people are unaware of the many advantages of working in manufacturing and “[t]here is little political will for lasting immigration reform that could fill workforce gaps.”

  • If current trends continue, the U.S. will have 2.1 million open manufacturing positions by 2030, according to a joint study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, the NAM’s 501(c)3 workforce development and education affiliate.

Well worth it: Still, for those who come to Marvin, the rewards are significant.

  • The company helps employees find permanent housing and is even an investor in a local apartment complex.
  • There is job security, too. When orders slowed at one of its factories a few years ago, the company offered cash bonuses to employees willing to relocate to Warroad.
  • Marvin has also helped Warroad schools hire Spanish-language translators to assist the children of new hires.

The final say: “Tapping into new talent pools is especially critical in rural areas, whether it’s done via relocation support, engaging second chance populations or participating in initiatives such as the Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America program, which is building connections between the military community and the manufacturing industry by bringing in new workers,” said MI President and Executive Director Carolyn Lee. “We need to engage all talent pools to fill the 500,000 jobs in manufacturing today.”

Policy and Legal

NYT Investigation: Pharmacy Benefit Managers Drive Up Costs for Employers

Although they were created to keep prescription drug prices down, pharmacy benefit managers “frequently do the opposite” (The New York Times, subscription)—and that’s one of the main reasons the NAM has long advocated for their reform.

What’s going on: “The job of the P.B.M.s is to reduce drug costs. Instead, they …
steer patients toward pricier drugs, charge steep markups on what would otherwise be inexpensive medicines and extract billions of dollars in hidden fees, a New York Times investigation found.”

Why it’s important: PBMs frequently charge employers and government programs, such as Medicare, many times the wholesale cost of a medication and keep the difference, according to the Times.

  • And it’s not just those taking prescriptions who pay; when drug costs are inflated, everyone ends up paying higher insurance premiums.
  • What’s more, “[b]ecause of recent mergers, [the big three PBMs] are becoming more dominant, collectively processing roughly 80 percent of prescriptions in the United States.” That’s up more than 30% from just 12 years ago.

Working around a workaround: In 2018, in response to growing pressure from employers to get PBMs to share more of the discounts from drug manufacturers, PBMs set up entities known as group purchasing organizations.

  • These GPOs pass savings to employers—but they “also began imposing new fees on drug manufacturers,” money they were not contractually bound to pass on to clients.
  • The result: “Employers are none the wiser. They receive rebates. But they can’t see the billions of dollars in fees that the G.P.O.s take for themselves.”

Congress makes moves: Since the beginning of last year, seven House and Senate committees have passed PBM-reform legislation, including policies to increase transparency into PBMs’ business practices, delink PBM compensation from medications’ list prices and ensure that rebates are fully passed through to the plan sponsor or patient.

  • The NAM has been crucial in educating lawmakers on the need for these reforms and continues to advocate for PBM reform to be signed into law this year.

The last word: “PBMs drive up health care costs for manufacturers and manufacturing workers,” said NAM Vice President of Domestic Policy Charles Crain. “Congress must act as soon as possible to enact comprehensive PBM reform that benefits employers by making PBM contracts more straightforward, transparent and predictable—and benefits workers by reducing the prices they pay out of pocket for their prescriptions.”

Business Operations

Manufacturing in 2030: The Opportunity and Challenge of Manufacturing Data

As manufacturers move toward building smarter factories with connected machines, the data those systems produce can offer a host of benefits: improved efficiency, better productivity, informed decision-making, value creation and, ultimately, competitiveness. Yet becoming a data-driven business comes with its share of challenges. In this year’s Manufacturing in 2030 Survey, Data Mastery: A Key to Industrial Competitiveness, the NAM’s Manufacturing Leadership Council sheds light on the successes and opportunities for how manufacturers are transforming their operations with data.

Security and privacy concerns: As factories become more connected, cybersecurity becomes a greater imperative. For this reason, survey respondents validated that both data security and data privacy are essential.

  • More than 90% of respondents have a formal or partial policy on data security and data privacy.
  • About two-thirds of manufacturers have a formal or partial policy on data quality.
  • More than 60% have a corporate-wide plan, strategy or guidelines for data management, but only 15% follow the plan in its entirety.

How data is used: As manufacturers advance along their M4.0 journey, data is becoming their lifeblood, driving insights and decision-making. Yet the survey revealed a gap between available data sources and their utilization, a notable area for improvement as the industry looks toward the future.

  • Spreadsheets are still king: 70% of manufacturers enter data to them manually, and 68% still use them to analyze data.
  • 44% of manufacturing leaders say the amount of data they collect is double what it was two years ago, and they anticipate it will triple by 2030.
  • While nearly 60% of manufacturers use data to understand and optimize projects, there is a shift toward using data to make predictions about operational performance, including machine performance, in the next decade.

Business impact: Most manufacturers leverage data to find ways to save money or promote business growth. However, less than half have a good understanding of the dollar value of their data.

  • Only about 25% of manufacturers have high confidence that the right data is being collected.
  • Most manufactures have only moderate confidence in their analytic capabilities.
  • Top challenges include data that comes from different systems or in different formats (53%), data that is not easy to access (28%) and lack of skills to analyze data effectively (28%).
  • However, despite those challenges, 95% of manufacturers say data makes for faster and/or higher-quality decision-making.

The bottom line: An overwhelming majority of manufacturers (86%) believe that the effective use of manufacturing data will be “essential” to their competitiveness. But to realize data’s potential, manufacturers must figure out how to organize and analyze their data effectively, ensure that their data is trustworthy and align their business strategy closely with their data strategy.

Explore the survey: Get a deeper look at the current state of data mastery in manufacturing. Click here to download your copy.

Policy and Legal

Rep. Walberg Visits Madsen Steel Wire Products to Discuss Tax Priorities

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) recently visited Madsen Steel Wire Products in Bronson, Michigan, to discuss critical tax priorities with company leadership and members of the National Association of Manufacturers.

The visit, led by Madsen Steel Wire Products General Manager Steve Cochran, focused on the importance of maintaining a competitive tax code to support growth and innovation in the manufacturing sector in the face of scheduled expirations of key pro-manufacturing tax policies in 2025. The visit also underscored the essential role manufacturing plays in economic growth and stability.

The topline: During the tour, Rep. Walberg witnessed firsthand the impact of pro-growth tax policies on manufacturers.

  • “Visiting Madsen Steel Wire Products reinforced the need for tax policy that supports manufacturing growth and job creation,” Walberg said. “We in Congress must act before the end of 2025 to preserve 2017 tax reform and avoid the devastating impacts to small manufacturers that will come to pass if these pro-growth policies are not preserved.”

A close-up view: Cochran shared the company’s experience with 2017 tax reform, highlighting how tax reform enabled significant investments in new equipment and workforce expansion.

  • “Tax reform in 2017 was a game-changer for us; it allowed us to invest in our people and technology, driving our competitive edge,” said Cochran. “But the looming expiration of key tax reform provisions creates significant uncertainty for our future planning.”
  • “In particular, we face a potential double-whammy as our tax rates are scheduled to increase next year at the same time the pass-through deduction expires—resulting in significant and damaging tax increases for us and other small manufacturers.”

An economic impact: The economic impact of manufacturing on local communities was a central theme of the discussion.

  • “Manufacturers like Madsen Steel Wire Products are vital to communities like Bronson,” said Branch County Economic Growth Alliance Director Audrey Tappenden. “Their strength is critical to our local economy and broader industries.”

The big picture: Walberg and Cochran also discussed the broader economic impact of tax reform. The NAM’s recent survey found that 94% of manufacturers believe Congress should act before the end of 2025 to prevent tax increases. The survey also indicated that if tax increases take effect, 73% of manufacturers would limit capital investments and 65% would reduce job creation.

  • “Manufacturing is the backbone of our local economy,” said Cochran. “Our ability to invest in new technologies and expand our workforce is dependent on preserving tax reform, which will directly translate to more jobs and better wages for our community.”

The bottom line: “The stakes are high,” said Walberg. “We need to ensure that the tax code continues to support the hardworking men and women in manufacturing. It’s about maintaining a level playing field and ensuring that manufacturers like Madsen Steel Wire Products can thrive—supporting small business growth and the economic health and prosperity of our communities.”

The takeaway: “The NAM launched ‘Manufacturing Wins ’ to preserve tax reform, and Rep. Walberg’s visit to Madsen Steel underscores the critical role of tax policy in driving the success of manufacturers in America,” said NAM Vice President of Domestic Policy Charles Crain. “Congress must act before the end of 2025 to prevent devastating tax increases—bolstering manufacturing across the country and supporting the economic stability and growth of local communities like Bronson, Michigan.”

Business Operations

In It for the Long Haul: C.H. Robinson Takes on Sustainability

It’s not every day that an international company meets an ambitious sustainability goal two years early. But last May, that’s exactly what happened at 119-year-old transportation logistics provider C.H. Robinson.

  • The goal under discussion: a company-wide reduction in intensity of Scope 1 and 2 emissions—those emissions generated by the company’s own operations—of 47% (more than the 40% targeted). C.H. Robinson had previously calculated meeting the objective by 2025.

Simple but effective: “Most of it was looking at where we could find inefficiencies” and correcting them, said C.H. Robinson Vice President of Environment, Social and Governance Rachel Schwalbach. Some changes came from suggestions “our own employees brought forward: LED lighting, responsible use” of electricity.

  • Efforts also included a marked increase in the company’s use of renewables generally. From 2019 to 2023, C.H. Robinson renewable-energy purchases rose 40%.

Not an either/or proposition: The Eden Prairie, Minnesota–based company—which solves logistics challenges for clients through freight forwarding and other innovative transportation solutions—is proof positive that businesses don’t have to choose between good environmental stewardship and profitability.

  • In fact, “sometimes the sustainable option is actually the less expensive option,” Schwalbach told the NAM. “C.H. Robinson is working with suppliers every day to drive out waste, and often that’s been because we’ve looked at it through a lens of cost savings or time reduction. Now it’s also through the lens of sustainability.”
  • What’s more, “if you’re approaching sustainability right, it should be tied to your overall business strategy. Sometimes it’s as simple as making sure you’re compliant with rules and regulations” as you meet sustainability requirements.

A competitive advantage: Reducing the footprint of operations can be a competitive advantage for manufacturers, too.

  • “We get asked about sustainability by nearly all our stakeholders, so it really has to be a part of strategic decision making across the business,” Schwalbach continued. “Our shippers are also getting asked about [sustainability] by their investors and customers. People across the business are thinking about it, so it’s [to our advantage to] make sure it’s integrated across all areas.”

No business is an island: Businesses must keep in mind that sustainability is a shared interest, and the environment’s health is best served by teamwork, not isolated efforts, according to Schwalbach.

  • “As companies continue to put big [sustainability] goals out there, I cannot emphasize enough the need for collaboration across industries, as clichéd as it sounds,” Schwalbach said. “Having people who are willing to come to the table and say, ‘Hey, let’s figure this out together,’ is going to be pretty critical.”
  • For C.H. Robinson, that means engaging with customers, carriers and a broad range of other stakeholders.

Supporting climate-friendly practices: The right moves by policymakers can also help support the private sector’s sustainability efforts.

  • “As we’re looking increasingly at alternative fuels and electric vehicles here in the U.S., we need an electric grid that can support the transition to a lower-carbon economy,” Schwalbach said. “Continuing to invest in [strengthening] the grid will help us invest in the right technologies. We need to be able to move forward quickly in a way that doesn’t cause disruption to the supply chain and transportation.”
  • Companies want clarity around regulations, too. “There are so many [regulations] coming out right now, and companies want to know, ‘How do I get the right [climate-related] data? How do I make sure the data are accurate?’”

In for the long haul: So what’s next for C.H. Robinson? A continued focus on conservation, for one thing.

  • “You meet your goals, and that’s really exciting, but there’s no time to sit around,” Schwalbach said, adding that the company is now in the process of figuring out “what new sustainability goals will look like for carbon reduction.”
  • Ultimately, those goals will be met by ensuring a commitment to the environment remains a company-wide focus, she told us.
  • “Doing sustainability well means it’s integrated. C.H. Robinson is a 119-year-old company, and sustainability is about making sure we’re going to be successful for another 119 years.”
Policy and Legal

AI Speeds Drug Development

a person sitting at a table using a laptop

High-tech drug development labs are training artificial intelligence to design therapeutic treatments more quickly, The New York Times (subscription) reports.

What it looks like: Laboratories are using processes that record huge amounts of data quickly and efficiently—a practice that technology has made possible.

  • “[T]he real action is happening at nanoscale: Proteins in solution combine with chemical molecules held in minuscule wells in custom silicon chips that are like microscopic muffin tins. Every interaction is recorded, millions and millions each day, generating 50 terabytes of raw data daily—the equivalent of more than 12,000 movies.”

How it works: By harvesting tremendous amounts of data with mechanized accuracy, these labs can use AI tools to perform rapid experiments, recognize patterns and make predictions about possible solutions—all more quickly than a human practitioner.

  • “The companies are leveraging the new technology—which learns from huge amounts of data to generate answers—to try to remake drug discovery. They are moving the field from a painstaking artisanal craft to more automated precision, a shift fueled by AI that learns and gets smarter.”

Why it’s exciting: Traditional drug development processes are typically extremely slow and expensive and frequently end in failure during the human clinical trials stage—often because the drug is not effective enough, or because drugmakers discover unforeseen side effects. With the benefit of AI, biopharmaceutical companies may be able to overcome these challenges.

  • “Studies of the cost of designing a drug and navigating clinical trials to final approval vary widely. But the total expense is estimated at $1 billion on average. It takes 10 to 15 years. And nearly 90% of the candidate drugs that enter human clinical trials fail.”

Why it’s safe: The practice is designed to prevent the kind of issues that tend to plague generative AI, and any final medicine still requires significant human input.

  • “Because AI for drug development is powered by precise scientific data, toxic ‘hallucinations’ are far less likely than with more broadly trained chatbots. And any potential drug must undergo extensive testing in labs and in clinical trials before it is approved for patients.”

Our take: During a recent event with Axios, titled “Balancing Innovation vs. Regulation,” NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons touched on some of the pioneering work biopharmaceuticals are doing using AI.

  • “All of the innovations in the biopharmaceutical industry … are creating new cures for diseases that we’ve been battling for the whole history of mankind,” said Timmons. “We’re accomplishing all of these things now—and it’s so exciting.”

Dig deeper: The NAM’s first-of-its-kind report, “Working Smarter: How Manufacturers Are Using Artificial Intelligence,” details use cases for AI in manufacturing and case studies of how manufacturers are implementing AI technologies. In the report, Johnson & Johnson Executive Vice President and Chief Technical Operations & Risk Officer and NAM Board Chair Kathy Wengel shares how J&J uses AI in clinical trials.

  • “When we conduct clinical trials, AI helps us more efficiently establish safety and effectiveness guardrails, while allowing us to conduct trials at a larger scale,” writes Wengel. “AI also gives us a far stronger mastery over our supply chains. Overall, it helps our people do a better job of living up to our commitment of improving health care outcomes and making our towns, country and world a better place.”
Policy and Legal

Manufacturers Rally to Advance Nuclear Energy

The NAM is pressing the U.S. Senate to support a bill that would promote clean nuclear energy development.

What it does: The legislation, called the Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy (ADVANCE) Act, offers a number of components to accelerate the development and commercialization of advanced nuclear reactor technologies. It includes:

  • Permitting and approval reform to make it easier for reactor projects to locate on brownfield sites, land that is underused or has been abandoned because of industrial waste;
  • “Early licensing work” provisions to help deploy reactors more quickly at national security infrastructure sites;
  • A series of awards to encourage companies to develop advanced-reactor technology; and
  • Hiring support for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is understaffed to deal with the level of applications for new reactors.

Where it stands: The legislation was reported out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with a bipartisan vote of 16–3, and companion legislation was passed in the House of Representatives by an overwhelming vote of 365–36. Now, the NAM is pushing the Senate to pass the bill.

Why it matters: “Nuclear-generated power is an important part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy, which is necessary to meet the power needs of a growing manufacturing sector,” said NAM Managing Vice President of Policy Chris Netram. “The ADVANCE Act would accelerate the development and commercialization of advanced nuclear reactor technologies through reforms to the existing licensing and permitting systems.”

Our action: The NAM is urging Congress to support the bill ahead of the Senate’s vote, detailing its benefits in a letter to senators.

The last word: “Manufacturers create jobs that support families, and develop and deploy innovative technologies that make our environment cleaner,” said Netram. “Increasing our nation’s energy supply, including the growth of nuclear power, will support manufacturing investments and jobs across America.”

Policy and Legal

Westinghouse Helps Keep Ukraine’s Nuclear Reactors Running

In recent years, an American household company name has been helping keep Ukraine’s nuclear reactors running (The Wall Street Journal, subscription).

What’s going on: After Russia’s invasion in 2022, Ukraine stopped buying nuclear fuel from Moscow, formerly its top supplier. That’s when Westinghouse Electric stepped in.

  • The Pennsylvania-headquartered company “now makes fuel bundles that are compatible with all of the country’s [Soviet-designed VVER] reactors and is working on a plan that could allow Ukraine to start making some of that fuel itself. Ukraine also plans to build nine Westinghouse-designed reactors.”

Why it’s important: The change is a victory for the West, “which has long sought to erode Russia’s dominance in the industry and the political influence that comes with it.”

  • Russia has about 44% of the world’s uranium-enrichment capacity, which is critical because nuclear reactors use uranium for power production.

A decade in the making: After Russia seized Crimea in 2014, Ukrainian state nuclear company “Energoatom ramped up purchases of Westinghouse’s fuel assemblies and, by the beginning of 2022, six of Ukraine’s 15 reactors had been loaded with fuel from the company.”

  • The firm also began supplying Ukraine with fuel assemblies for the VVER-440 reactor, of which the country has two.

A critical moment: As part of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago, Russia occupied the country’s largest nuclear power station, Zaporizhzhia, and attacked other energy infrastructure.

  • Energoatom had to move fast to maintain deliveries of Westinghouse’s VVER-440 fuel, without which one of Ukraine’s nuclear reactors might need to be shuttered, worsening an electricity shortage.
  • “What followed was a high-stakes race to make the fuel and load it in a reactor near the western Ukrainian city of Rivne, which faced occasional aerial bombardment despite being far from the war’s front line.”
  • Westinghouse raced to source new machinery and rework its factory floor in Sweden, “upending traditional ways of working in a tightly regulated sector that is better known for its glacial pace.”

How it succeeded: The company set up a 60-person task force to meet and identify potential bottlenecks in production and launched talks with other European utilities.

  • It got the Czech Republic and other countries with VVER-440 reactors “to accept the same basic fuel assembly design as the one Westinghouse was planning to use for Ukraine—a step officials said helped speed up production because it eliminated some of the time the company would usually spend on customization.”
  • Utilities in five countries, including Ukraine, have since signed deals with Westinghouse for fuel deliveries.
  • Experts from Energoatom went back and forth between Ukraine and Sweden to help with the fuel development, and in September, the new fuel assemblies were ready.

A nuclear future: To produce the fuel, Westinghouse purchased new manufacturing equipment, repurposed older equipment and 3-D printed some detailed components.

  • “Westinghouse delivered a first batch of VVER fuel to a nuclear power plant in Bulgaria this spring and has said a delivery to the Czech Republic should take place this year.”
Policy and Legal

NAM, Partners Urge Administration to Withdraw “March-in” Proposal

If finalized, guidance proposed last year by the Biden administration to allow the federal government to seize manufacturers’ intellectual property rights would be ruinous to the U.S. innovation economy, the NAM and state partners told Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo this week.

What’s going on: In December, the Biden administration issued a proposal to enable government agencies to “march in” and revoke companies’ patent exclusivity if a product’s development was funded in any part by federal research dollars.

  • Under the proposal, the government’s decision of whether to march in would be based on a product’s price—effectively imposing government-mandated price controls on innovative products like clean energy solutions, next-generation semiconductors and lifesaving medicines.

Manufacturers fight back: The NAM and a coalition of regional and state manufacturing associations are pushing back, highlighting the importance of ironclad IP rights to groundbreaking innovation.

  • “[T]urning groundbreaking R&D into innovative products for the American people is only possible if creators—from university researchers to early-stage entrepreneurs to established businesses—can rely on strong intellectual property protections,” the associations told Raimondo.

Small business impacts: Startups and small businesses would pay the heaviest toll if the new march-in standards are finalized.

  • Scientists and researchers at universities nationwide will face difficulties in partnering with the industry and in founding startups based on their research, “strik[ing] a blow to the local economies in [all 50] states that depend on university-centered innovation hubs for job creation and economic growth.”
  • If a promising idea makes it out of the lab, outside investors will be reluctant to inject the capital necessary for further R&D and product development—resulting in fewer life-changing and lifesaving products for the American people.

What needs to happen: Manufacturers are calling on the Biden administration to reverse course.

  • “We urge you to protect our local, state and regional economies, which benefit from breakthrough research, entrepreneurship and modern manufacturing, by withdrawing the proposed march-in guidance.”
Policy and Legal

10th Anniversary of NAM President and CEO’s “Four Pillars” Speech

NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons delivered a defining speech at the Friends of Adam Smith Awards a decade ago. This speech outlined the “Four Pillars of an Exceptional America,” a framework that continues to shape the NAM’s mission and advocacy.

Flashback: On June 11, 2014, in his speech accepting the 2014 Business Citizen Award for an outstanding record of achievement in advancing the principles of free enterprise, Timmons introduced the four pillars that underpin American exceptionalism and manufacturing strength.

The Four Pillars:

  • Free enterprise: The economic system that unleashes innovation, creates opportunity and lifts humankind out of poverty more than any other economic system has in the history of the world.
  • Competitiveness: Our ability, when untethered from government overreach, to prosper and win in a global economy.
  • Individual liberty: The unique freedoms enshrined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights that enable us to live and succeed.
  • Equal opportunity: Our shared belief that we all have the ability to contribute to the betterment of our families, our companies, our communities and our country.

Manufacturers’ approval: The NAM Board of Directors unanimously adopted these pillars as part of the association’s official policy positions, guiding the NAM’s Competing to Win agenda to bolster the competitiveness of manufacturers in the United States.

The impact: These pillars have guided the NAM’s efforts in promoting policies that support a robust manufacturing industry and a strong national economy, helping to draw support across the political divide for manufacturers’ principles-based agenda.

The bottom line: “The Four Pillars are not just about manufacturing; they are about sustaining the promise of America,” said NAM Executive Vice President Erin Streeter. “That’s why these values have helped us ensure the manufacturing agenda is a post-partisan agenda, drawing support for so many of our priorities from policymakers and by candidates—on both sides of the aisle—on the campaign trail. We will continue to work with anyone who wants to advance these values.”

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