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Poll of Wisconsin manufacturers finds support for business climate, amid concerns

Pollster Rob Autry releases the results of the manufacturers' poll, during a briefing in Waukesha County on Tuesday.
Chuck Quirmbach
Pollster Rob Autry released the results of the manufacturers' poll during a briefing in Waukesha County on Tuesday.

A new poll of Wisconsin manufacturers found that most believe the state's business climate is heading in the right direction, even though the survey found that more manufacturers think the business climate is worse than five years ago.

The survey of 400 manufacturing executives took place from mid-August to mid-September. Earlier in October, there were also five focus groups around the state. The poll was done for the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing & Productivity, a public-private partnership that includes UW-Stout.

Pollster Rob Autry said the focus groups explained the right direction-worse climate disconnect.

"They were pretty enlightening. What we heard, for reasons the business climate is going so well right now, is demand was high. A lot of manufacturers had a lot of customers coming in, needing product. Why things weren't going as well is they didn't have enough bodies in the factories to produce or meet the needs of the demand. There's one manufacturer that specifically said, 'I'm leaving millions of dollars on the table because I don't have the people or the parts to meet the demand,'" Autry said.

The manufacturers' poll found that supply chain issues are a more significant concern for smaller companies, while finding, attracting and keeping qualified workers was the top concern for larger firms.

Autry said executives also indicate COVID-19 has put a question mark on the future for some businesses.

Yet the poll shows an overwhelming majority of manufacturers do not consider requiring their employees to be vaccinated in order to return to work in person.

Autry recalled what he heard in a focus group, even after President Joe Biden said he would try to make larger firms require vaccines. "The person in Milwaukee was pretty succinct: 'Heck no, I'm not going to destroy my business.'"

Health officials have also urged more vaccinations to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The fate of the manufacturing sector is still important to state finances. According to a national trade group, manufacturing employs more than 400,000 people in Wisconsin. That's about 15% of the workforce.

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