2020 Here We Come

December 13, 2019 | 2020 here we come

Believe it or not, a new decade is almost here.

Right around the corner is 2020. And while a chapter is closing on the last 10 years, the same manufacturing trends and issues we’ve seen rise to prominence in the past few years — like workforce, geopolitics, automation and more — will continue to dominate the conversation. Iowa’s manufacturing sector is learning to adapt, and the overall outlook is still positive. Back in June, almost half of respondents in ABI’s yearly poll believed sales would increase over the next year.

As we bid farewell to the 2010s, ABI members look ahead to the new year and discuss trends and projections in their industries.


Tim Bianco believes there’s a continued upswing on the horizon for manufacturers in North America. What he calls “on-shoring,” the sourcing and creation of materials in North America rather than overseas, will become more prevalent in the coming year, he said.

But geopolitical issues between the United States and China have been quelling the optimism, if ever so slightly. Tariffs on steel imported from China are an important factor for Bianco’s company, Iowa Spring. Iowa Spring is a steel spring manufacturer and sources its material from all over the world. Bianco said because of the tariffs, steel prices in his industry went up about 24% in 2018 alone.

He also pointed out the importance of passing the reworked North America Free Trade Agreement — called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement — because of how interconnected the three economies are. The new deal was proposed by the United States in early 2019.

“I think manufacturing in North America is making a comeback — it’s on the rebound,” Bianco said. “I think our economies are so intertwined here in North America that separating the three is hard to do. North American manufacturers and sizable international players all have operations in both Canada and Mexico. Playing the tariffs game between our three countries is a challenge, and we need to resolve it.”

Iowa Spring is not dissimilar from the many other Iowa companies in its fight for workforce. The company has two locations, one in Adel and another in North Carolina, with a total of about 135 employees. But finding new talent has been a struggle. That has led to an increase in wages, which continue to rise as unemployment in Iowa hovers around 2.5%.

Bianco said wages for entry-level positions in his company are up about 25% over the last three years. Iowa Spring has also adapted to its employees’ schedules. So instead of traditional first, second and third shifts, many employees can work flexible hours depending on product demand.

While all this is good news for employees, many companies are feeling the squeeze. The low labor pool has also led some manufacturing companies, including Iowa Spring, to look at automation and process improvement to save on costs.

Iowa Spring expects to spend $3 million to $5 million in the next three years on robotics and automation, and in early November was constructing a building addition focused on process improvement.

“[The workforce conversation] is consistently bleak,” Bianco said. “It’s driven all businesses to at least look at automation and process improvement. That’s what we’re in the middle of at the moment. And we’re not going to employ less than we do now. We’re just going to repurpose what we currently have.”

The global market is shakier than at this time last year. But Bianco is confident in his outlook because Iowa Spring services a diverse list of industries. One of its biggest service industries is the agricultural sector, which has struggled over the past decade. Because Iowa Spring is invested in five or six other core industries, it has found success.

“Despite all that, we continue to grow as a company here,” Bianco says. “We’re reliant on the success of our customers, and we’ve aligned ourselves with some pretty strong national and international brands that continue to grow. It helps that everything we produce is already sold to our customer. We don’t make a spring that sits in a shelf or in a catalog.”


The fiber optic, electrical and telephone industry has seen increasing growth in recent years thanks to the demand of interconnected devices and processes. 2020 seems like it will be no exception.

Bemrich Electric and Telephone Inc. in Fort Dodge is a small business poised to capitalize on the industry. The company was founded in 1984 and specializes in electrical installations for industrial, commercial, agricultural and residential markets. It also works with phone systems and fiber optics.

In 2019, the company saw about 10-12% growth and hired five employees. They are hoping to see the same growth in 2020 — right in the 8-12% range.

“The market in its current state seems very robust, especially in the industrial and agricultural markets,” said Matt Bemrich, project manager, estimator and a third-generation family member of the business. “There is a lot of opportunity in our markets, and they are all doing well. From what I can see, almost all contractors are looking that they are going to have good years.”

The company’s goal in 2020 is to continue to develop new partnerships around the Fort Dodge area. Bemrich is particularly focused on the agricultural market, since that has become an emerging industry for the business. The Fort Dodge area also boasts retail areas that are underdeveloped or underutilized, meaning that many of these spaces might be repurposed or rebuilt. That could spell an opportunity for an electrical company like Bemrich Electrical and Telephone.

There are also plenty of opportunities in the internet space, as companies and homes continue to rely on connectivity for many of their devices and services.

“With the increased bandwidth out there, we’re seeing that there is going to be a lot of opportunity in those networking industries,” Bemrich said.

As with other small businesses, finding the right workforce is tough, but essential. Bemrich Electrical and Telephone has about 35 employees. To develop new workers, the company shifted its attention to growing mechanically inclined workers at a young age.

“You don’t have to go to college to become an electrician; you typically go through an apprenticeship program,” Bemrich said. “There’s been a lot of emphasis on that, and we’ve really been trying to market the career opportunities.”

Bemrich Electrical and Telephone operates an apprenticeship program through the National Electrical Contractors Association and hopes to develop that pipeline in the coming year. Bemrich said the business expects to add at least three more employees in 2020, a positive sign that growth is coming.


The trend for marketers going into 2020? Genuine storytelling is king.

Michele Farrell is a partner at Measured Intentions, an Urbandale- based marketing company, and works primarily with the manufacturing industry. She was one of the key players in ABI’s Elevate Advanced Manufacturing campaign, which operates with the goal of improving the perception of advanced manufacturing in Iowa.

Telling stories and connecting with people beyond a simple advertisement has always been an important factor in the marketing mix. But it’s become even more essential today as younger generations seem immune to traditional advertising. Storytelling also drives real engagement on social media, which can help boost all-important search engine optimization (SEO).

“Throughout history, marketing through genuine stories and testimonials has been a great tactic, and it continues to work really well,” Farrell said. “Making it more personal, and getting that real engagement, is something that I see a lot.”

How you tell that story and what kind of story you tell have also been changing in recent years.

Social responsibility has become one of the foremost talking points among younger generations, Farrell said. She recently read data that suggested younger generations would actually pay more for a product if the company was more socially responsible. It’s part of the reason socially responsible investing has become a huge trend among millennials.

A company telling its story of social responsibility, whether that be reducing carbon emissions, giving back to the community or something else, can be a huge boost to a marketing strategy.

“I think [social responsibility] is especially [prevalent] with millennials, but I think it’s gaining with all generations,” Farrell said. “There’s all sorts of data out there like that.”

Newer technologies have also provided countless different avenues for marketers. Video is still on the rise — more than 500 million hours of videos are watched on YouTube alone every day — and that doesn’t seem likely to slow down. Other emerging technologies, like augmented reality, are coming along as well. That could lead to more interactive videos and storytelling formats.

There’s also a resurgence of old-school marketing channels. Farrell has seen effectiveness in direct mail and billboards since so many marketers have moved into digital. These traditional tools are great ways to supplement new-aged marketing.

2020 is bringing a lot of new and improved tools for marketers, but a marketing strategy has to be diverse to be effective — an age-old adage that continues to endure.

“It has to be a holistic approach,” Farrell said. “That has always been the way to go. If you’re trying to reach all these generations — Gen X, Gen Z, millennials, baby boomers — you’ve got to be everywhere.”