Thermoforming Report

March Thermoforming Report: The Good, the Bad, and the Seriously of US Manufacturing

by Keith Brown, President & Owner, Siena Group.

March 2023.

Happy Friday! It’s a bit late getting out this morning but better late than never. It is a long article today, so I will keep this brief: there will always be trends that come and go, problems to overcome, and great people doing great things in manufacturing. Things are different than they were… but the same fundamentals are there that made this country the leader in manufacturing: people are working hard, people are innovating, and people are making stuff in the US!

As usual, we have several great articles relevant to our industry and quite a few amazing All Stars to highlight! Check them out down below in the links on the right. We also have more extraordinary talent in the Featured Talent tab.

Manufacturing in the US: The Good, the Bad, and the ‘Seriously?!’

I recently saw a great graphic highlighting US manufacturing. If taken as a whole, US manufacturing would be number 7 on the list of countries worldwide relative to GDP at $2.5 trillion. NUMBER SEVEN. Of nearly 200 countries in the entire world… ahead of Canada, Italy, and Brazil, the US is NUMBER SEVEN.

That is massive. AND it is foundational.

Our forefathers understood the need to fend for ourselves and not be dependent on other countries. US manufacturing held the top spot in the world until 2010 when China claimed the crown. I don’t have all the data, but I do recall that a tremendous amount of offshoring was all the rage in the early 2000s. And a lot of that went to China. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a bashing of China article. It is about manufacturing here in the US and those things that I see are that are good, that are bad, and that are “seriously?!?”

Let me start at the beginning… and it falls under the “seriously?!?” category.


Let’s face it. When children are asked the default dream job question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, you probably wouldn’t get an “I want to be in manufacturing!” answer, right?

I know that I didn’t say that when I was a kid… I wanted to be a pro baseball player. No, the Atlanta Braves didn’t come knocking on my door, but I did end up with a great degree from a great college, working for a great manufacturing company. What is interesting is that after all this time, I am very proud of my career in manufacturing!

BUT – and here’s where the ‘Seriously?!’ topic title comes in – in a recent survey, the top spot ‘dream job’ was ‘You-Tuber’ or ‘Social Media Influencer’ or ‘TikToker’! Seriously?! Yes, I realize that these dream jobs didn’t exist in previous generations, but – seriously?!

The Bad

What is wrong?? Perception. When we think about manufacturing, most people think about the ugly side of it.

It is dirty. It is hard work. It isn’t safe. It isn’t fun. It isn’t glamorous. It isn’t … fill-in-the-blank. Yes, it can be dirty, and yes, it can be hard work. Yes, it may not be inherently safe, but there are a ton of safeguards in place to dramatically reduce accidents and injuries. And it most certainly can be fun. And a great paycheck. And challenging. And bread-winning, putting-food-on-the-table, paying-the-bills fulfilling. And technologically cutting edge. And rewarding.

This country was literally founded on the principles of independence. It provided – and continues to provide – opportunities for people to innovate and build things. It instills a sense of pride. It enables millions of Americans to live well – the average hourly wage is over $30 an hour which is much higher than front-line service positions (fast food and similar with all the minimum and living wage arguments that continue to swirl around). Yet, it isn’t talked about at the dinner tables nor is it contemplated as a great career choice.

No wonder there are over 770,000 job openings in manufacturing right now! In a recent piece on CBS Morning News, reporters talked with Mike Rowe and the CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, Jay Timmons, who describe this giant hole in the American economy due to a large number of “men who have essentially dropped out of the workforce”. It is astonishing that we are where we are! Maybe not surprising but still very bad news for all of us.

At one point, the journalist was talking with a small business owner, who shared that she is leaving $5M in annual revenue on the table because she can’t staff up to handle the demand. As the journalist rightly pointed out, that revenue could be paying people good wages that in turn generate taxes and end up in the community with people going to restaurants, the movies, and buying goods & services – the very engine of the economy!

In my many conversations with business owners, hiring managers, and HR professionals, they ask me if I am hearing the same things from some of the early career engineers. When I talk with prospective candidates, I work to establish a level of expectations for the role. I typically ask about their idea of working at a plant running 24/7. Sometimes, there is a sense that it is “just a day job.” When I get an unprompted question, “what are the hours?”, I will not present that person to a client! There just is something missing. Inherent to the profession is a significant level of commitment and understanding that as an engineer – or manager or HR Generalist or Planner or any other role at a manufacturing plant – that equipment needs to be running safely and making quality products. If it isn’t, the company isn’t making money. Period. Somehow this concept has gotten lost along the way. No, this does not apply universally as I know there are amazing people at every level and at every point across organizations that are absolutely delivering results day in and day out!

The Good

That is a great segue into all of the good and great things going on in manufacturing! 

A McKinsey & Company article from 2021 has a powerful graphic about the economic impact of manufacturing in the US. 8% of the US workforce accounts for 11% of the GDP and drives 20% of the net capital stock, 35% of productivity growth, and 55% of patents. These figures don’t include all the exports, the R&D spending, the demand it stimulates, and the monies spent in the communities across the country. And though overall employment is down, the trend has been turning around the past couple of years and the numbers in this 2018 graphic are lower than where we are today. Proportionally, the US remains well behind China, but it is a two-horse race for sure!

A tremendous amount of training is underway.  Communities around the country are realizing that in order to support their local small manufacturing businesses, they need to provide skills training to get people into the manufacturing boat. This will mean investment, resources, and the right people to make it happen. There are even nationally based organizations out there to do just that – help companies and cities implement actionable plans to shore up their current needs… and those needs that will be there for the next generation. YES!

Our Bright Future

The light has come on and growing in intensity. We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do, but the light is shining brightly! As painful a lesson as it was, the pandemic highlighted what I believe was a combination of complacency and laziness – because it was easy. When the supply chain got entirely messed up and people were scared about going to work, all of that went out the window and it brought to light the collective creative power to figure things out – together. And be flexible. And bring back some of those internal-to-the-US sources. And apply technologies to improve efficiencies and leverage the available talent more effectively. And we are thriving as a result. 

When manufacturing grows, so will the economy. It is happening and all of us in this great industry need to keep those flames burning hot and bright!   

When US manufacturing grows, so will the economy. We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do, but the future is shining brightly!

Keith Brown, Owner/President
  • Commodity Resin Prices on the Rise at the Start of 2023. via Plastics News.
  • Resin Price Report: Lingering Plant Outages Disrupt PE, PP Supply in February. via Plastics Today.
  • American Supply Chains: “We’re Just Getting Started”. via Forbes.
  • Packaging Thermoformers Lead the Way for Growth. via Plastics News.
  • Thermoform Plastic Market Overview: Rise in Demand for Packaged Food Amongst Key Drivers. via PR Newswire.
  • Plastics Industry to Mirror US GDP Growth. via Plastics News.
  • Automotive Trends: Electric Vehicles Drive Greater Use of Plastics. via Plastics Today.
  • PET Bottles Have Smaller Environmental Impact than Glass and Aluminum Containers. via Plastics News.
  • BLS Employment Report – February 2023. via MRINetwork.
  • The Right Tools for the Right Job
    When it comes to searching for the right new person on your team or for a new role, we can all most certainly be reminded about the key tools necessary for success. I recently experienced a DIY annoyance and realized how readily the dots connect to what I see in the market these days for hiring managers, organizations, and candidates. via Siena Group.
  • Women in the Workplace Report
    According to the latest Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey, in partnership with LeanIn.Org, women leaders are switching jobs at the highest rates seen in the eight years they’ve been issuing the report. The research revealed that we’re in the midst of a “Great Breakup.” Women are demanding more from work, and they’re leaving their companies in unprecedented numbers to get it — and at higher rates than men in leadership. via McKinsey.
  • What Gen Z Job Hunters Need
    Generation Z, which represents the majority of undergraduates today and is expected to account for 30 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2030, is entering a job market that is vastly different from those experienced by prior generations. Findings from Adobe’s Future Workforce Study reveal how the newest employee cohort is feeling about the economy, current labor market, and job search and application process. via Adobe.
  • ‘Aging’ or ‘Tenured’? Is there Value to Companies to Engage an Aging Workforce?
    The Harvard Business Review recently addressed this question with unique data covering workforce characteristics, management practices, and business performance. Their findings were clear: Employee age had no impact on business performance, whether performance is measured by financial, operational, or customer outcomes. Tenure, however, had a significant positive and sometimes very sizeable impact on financial performance and operational excellence. via Harvard Business Review.
  • How the World’s Biggest Companies are Attracting and Retaining Their Best Talent
    Retaining your star performers is harder and more complicated than ever, but it is also the biggest predictor of business success. Modern companies have been forced to find innovative new ways to attract the best people and then keep them engaged. via CEO Magazine.

Sales VP: This Senior VP of Sales Leader has tremendous strengths in custom thin-gauge thermoforming and experience in food packaging and med device packaging. Functioning at the highest levels and delivering exceptional results over the course of his career, he generates top-line growth, implements systems, and leverages technology to secure new business.

Business Development Manager: This strong Account Manager has 30 years of experience, with more than 25 years of that in custom thermoforming. His highly collaborative approach has produced a history of delivering results, working from the manufacturing floor all the way up through senior executives, with more than 110% revenue growth over an average span of 10 years. He is immediately available!

Production Manager: This strong Production Manager brings over 30 years of experience – nearly all of it in thermoforming (thin-gauge AND heavy-gauge) and extrusion. With a proven history of leading a plant, he is now wanting that singular focus on the floor & front-line operations. He is immediately available, willing to relocate, and brings a tremendous amount of value!

Manufacturing Engineer: This early career Manufacturing Engineer has some thin-gauge thermoforming experience. With the demand for engineers being so extraordinarily high, this is what everyone is looking for! If you are able to invest a little time and support, you will definitely reap long-term benefits with this Engineer that will get it done for you. He is immediately available, willing to relocate, and fully bilingual!

Even More Thermoforming Talent! We are here to be your Thermoforming Talent Partner. Given the surge in manufacturing jobs, we would love to come alongside your team and support your talent needs! We work with so many talented people in so many different functions – and all in thermoforming – that we can’t possibly highlight them all! Whether it’s an Operations Leader, Plant Manager, specialized Engineer, Quality Leader, Sales Leader, or pretty much any thermoforming role, we are here to help. If you have a need, please do not hesitate to just reach out! 

Click for more All-Stars.

At Siena Group, we are your Thermoforming Talent Partner. With more than 30 years of experience in manufacturing, hiring & recruiting talent, we bring a greater understanding of the companies we partner with and the candidates we pursue. Let’s Strengthen Your Search!

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