The State of Your Business: What I’m Hearing on the Road

March 5, 2020 | Mike Ralston

Mike Ralston, President, ABI

When I write these columns each month, I typically focus on thanking you for your investment in ABI and on the state of our organization. This month's column will be a bit different, because I would like to share with you what I am hearing from ABI members about the state of their business.

In the past 60 days or so, I have visited ABI members in several different counties and literally been north, south, east and west in Iowa. From Atlantic to Muscatine, Dubuque to Sioux City, Waterloo to Fairfield, and many points in between, I have been all over our state and talked with ABI members at each stop.

These visits have produced mixed business reports. Many members experienced strong years in 2019. Some even experienced record years. By that, I mean sales, orders and employment (among other indicators) were all trending upward. But more members than usual (not a majority, but more than usual) experienced some softening in their business in 2019. Nearly all were concerned about the year ahead.

When I asked about reasons behind this concern, members most often cited three things as potential factors. Many mentioned trade and tariffs. Others focused on uncertainty about the impact of the COVID-19 virus, known as the coronavirus. However, as has been the case for well over a decade, the most talked about issue was the need for more workers. Even those experiencing downcycles were looking for people.

Further, I would note that the desire for people seemed to exist no matter the size, location or industry of the company involved. Everyone is looking for more workers.

That is the reason ABI's Elevate Advanced Manufacturing initiative is so important. Through a partnership with Iowa's community colleges, Elevate raises the profile of manufacturing jobs, connects Iowans with training and then connects those trained with jobs. It can make a difference for you and your company, and you can go to to learn more. ABI's other partnerships, such as the one with CIRAS (Iowa State University's Center for Industrial Research and Service) or with Iowa's other great educational institutions, are a part of the solution as well. 

Speaking of CIRAS, it can be a great resource for help and information about the COVID-19 virus. Click here for more information. ABI also has resources available through the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce related to COVID-19.

The bottom line is that whatever your issue, whether it is people or something else, at ABI, we want to help. 

To close, let me make a final comment about the state of ABI members' businesses. From my visits, everyone was positive about the future. That is not to say that in all cases did they believe 2020 was going to be a fabulous year, but all were positive about their employees, their products and their business plans. As always, you can expect big things from ABI members in the remaining quarters of the year and into the next. For now, don’t forget to register for the ABI Taking Care of Business Conference to be held in June in Cedar Rapids. Thank you for your investment in Iowa and in ABI!

Mike Ralston is president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. Email him at