A ground-breaking study to assess the global competitiveness of Illinois manufacturers reveals that many companies remain challenged to implement strategies that will enable them to compete and sustain their companies for the long term. IMEC sponsored the study with help from the state’s leading business organizations, including the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois, Clifton Gunderson and the Employers’ Association locally. Nationally, more than 2,500 manufacturers completed the survey, which was conducted by the Manufacturing Performance Institute (MPI).

One hundred and fifty of the state’s manufacturers participated in the Illinois Next Generation Manufacturing Study, which examined how prepared Illinois’ companies are to weather today’s recession and improve competitiveness over the next decade. The study was conducted over eight weeks, concluding in April.

Next Generation Manufacturing refers to a framework of forward-looking strategies that includes customer-focused innovation, systemic continuous improvement, advanced talent management, global engagement, extended enterprise management, and sustainable products and processes.

Study Highlights

Manufacturers ranked the following strategies as “highly important to their organizations’ success over the next five years”: superior processes/improvement (66.4%); customer-focused innovation (61%); and engaged people (45%). Respondents were considerably less focused on supply chain management, with 39.3% ranking it “highly important,” followed by global engagement (33.6%) and green/sustainability (17.8%).

Illinois manufacturers ranked their progress as “good” or “world-class” on the following strategies: customer-focused innovation (43%); superior processes/improvement (38%); engaged people (29%); supply chain management (22%); global engagement (21%); green/sustainability (21%). More than a third of respondents were in the mid-range, indicating average progress on four of the six strategies.

The study reveals a worker training deficit: 35.6% of Illinois manufacturers reported that they annually provide eight or fewer hours of formal training per employee. Only one in 16 respondents provide more than 40 hours of annual training, a level considered world-class.

“We know that manufacturing is changing at a pace never before seen in this country,” said IMEC President Bob Weinstein. “The study results confirm that companies large and small need to re-assess their markets, differentiate their products and services, and focus on the value they can provide to their customers.”

Why the Study is Important to Illinois
“We see the Next Generation Manufacturing Study as a scorecard that the public and private sectors can use to assess the progress of manufacturers in making the changes they’ll need to compete and win in the future,” said Weinstein. “Success in the next generation is clearly achievable, but it will require a renewed focus and commitment by our government leaders to provide manufacturers with adequate resources.”

Currently, manufacturing is the single largest contributing sector to the state’s economy, at roughly 13 percent of state GDP. Illinois is the nation’s fourth-largest industrial state, with Value Added Manufacturing reaching $94.1 billion. “The decline in manufacturing employment since the onset of the global recession can be reversed, if Illinois manufacturers start now to prepare to be highly competitive as the economy recovers.”

MPI CEO John Brandt said a key finding of the study is that some top-performing Illinois firms are preparing now to succeed in the next generation. “The good news we see in this data is that Illinois manufacturers recognize that in order to compete, they must make progress across the spectrum of next generation strategies,” he said.

Of potential concern, however, are Illinois-based manufacturers who aren’t engaged in transforming their processes and diversifying their customer base. ”Many of these firms may recognize the importance of adopting next generation strategies but are unable or unwilling to act,” he said. The study found that many manufacturers are making limited progress across key performance metrics, and that smaller firms in particular are more likely to face these difficulties.

Another concern from the study, said Weinstein, is the fact that Illinois manufacturers may be ill-prepared to participate in emerging market sectors such as alternative energy. “Market diversification will be a key to building a more stable future Illinois manufacturing sector and enabling future manufacturing growth." To download the study results or view regional findings, visit imec.org. iBi