Five years ago, Canton, Michigan, was a rare bright spot in Midwest manufacturing, with Duo-Gard Industries churning out polycarbonate canopies for skylights, translucent walls, and bike and transit shelters. “We managed to grow through the recession,” says Dave Miller, the company’s president. “The stimulus package from President Obama had a lot of transit in it, and that carried us through.”
In the rest of the Midwest, things were different. “Five years ago, we were still recovering,” says Bill Blazar, senior vice president of public affairs and business development for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. “One of the great lessons of the recession,” he adds, “was just how significant the building products industry is in Minnesota. The recession hit that industry hard.”
But by 2016, manufacturers had reasons to smile. “There was a reduction in federal regulations and the Trump administration started to do away with the overtime rule,” says Jaime Carl, vice president of public affairs and policy for the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “That boosted optimism and investment.”
Today, plants like Whirlpool’s in Amana, Iowa, are flush with production. “The appliance industry is up this year by 4.6 percent,” says Bob Bergeth, the manufacturer’s general manager of contract builder sales and marketing. “For homebuilders, the peak was 2 million housing starts in 2008, and we’re at 1.1 million now. There are a lot of bullish economists out there saying it could last another two to four years.”
People are operating on good feelings, says J.R. Anderson, president and CEO of Minnesota’s Acoustigreen, a division of Acoustical Surfaces. “We’re in an opportunistic state,” he says. Compared with the reality check delivered by the recession, all agree, that’s a better place to be.