Workers again the top manufacturing worry locally; economic clouds loom

In a new survey of what most concerns local manufacturers, the Dayton Region Manufacturers Association (DRMA) saw some familiar issues — finding and keeping skilled workers, the burden of regulations and more.

But Angelia Erbaugh, president of DRMA, said this year’s survey found that economic concerns are also mounting.

Last year, the third most crucial issue for Dayton-area manufacturers was supply chain problems. This year, that was replaced by “external economic factors,” such as inflation and the possibility of a recession.

This year, some 67% of responders to the DRMA’s annual survey cited that as a concern.

“Basically, the economy,” Erbaugh said.

“Of course, workforce is always our top issue,” she added. “It has been for 10 or 12 years.”

DRMA asked respondents to rank the five issues most sorely affecting them. The survey found that 65% of respondents identified rising labor costs as a top concern. 36% identified rising healthcare costs. 35% cited rising raw material costs, compared to 68% who cited that concern last year.



Business costs ranked second among the top concerns for survey respondents. The cost of raw materials is up but has leveled off at an elevated level since the COVID-19 pandemic.

A.J. Rolling, president and owner of Cat-Wood Metalworks in Moraine, said interest rates are hurting him these days, particularly after he refinanced his business last year to buy out a partner.

Were it not for those higher interest costs, Rolling estimates that he could hire perhaps two to three full-time employees.

“I would much rather be paying employees,” he said. “And that is not a value-add.”

Today, he has 33 full-time and five part-time employees. His health insurance costs are approaching $300,000 a year, another painful expense that takes more than its share of time, as well.

“It’s a second job almost, managing health care costs,” Rolling said.

In general, the DRMA survey found that cyber security threats are on the rise as a worry, while the supply chain, legalization of marijuana and unionization are falling as concerns.

Rolling serves customers in the aerospace industry. He said he pays a lot for managed services to keep his cyber systems safe in that sector.

David Reger, president of Winston Heat Treating in Dayton, said the survey results resonated with him, as well.

About nine to 10 months ago, inflation was pretty “supercharged,” he said. These days, though, “I think it’s leveling off some.”

Vendors are increasing prices. Healthcare premiums and costs were also up some 15% for his business in the past year, he said.

“Believe it or not, that was actually a good claims year,” Reger said. “It’s a good year if you’re keeping it (healthcare cost increases) in the single-digits.”

Erbaugh agreed that none of these issues have quick or easy solutions. “We know there are not any quick fixes.”

The reigning champion for the most urgent manufacturing concern in Dayton remains finding and keeping qualified workers. Because of that, Erbaugh said her association invests a lot of work on this issue.

Career awareness outreach for the DRMA works two ways: The association holds career events at schools. And members invite students to visit shops and workplaces. The DRMA recently changed its approach to Manufacturing Day, from having one event on the first Friday of October to having events year-round.

DRMA has 330 member companies, including 200 manufacturers. The manufacturing industry in the region employs over 130,000 workers earning $10.9 billion in annual payroll.

DRMA has members in 18 counties in West Central Ohio.

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