New Study Shows Improving, Expanding Workforce Top Challenge for Pacific Northwest Manufacturers

Today Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt and Aldrich Advisors released State of Manufacturing in the Pacific Northwest, a survey detailing insight from more than 100 executives representing long-standing Pacific Northwest manufacturers.

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The data shows that three-quarters of Pacific Northwest manufacturers see improving and expanding their workforce a top challenge in the coming year. Several other standout insights in the survey surround tax policy, growing pains and opportunities, technology and executive leadership transition.

“We are delighted to present the results of our survey on the State of Manufacturing in the Pacific Northwest,” said Jennifer Campbell, Manufacturing, Distribution and Retail Industry Group Leader at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt. “Thank you to each of the more than one hundred of you who answered our ask to learn more about how other manufacturers are tackling shared issues. We hope the manufacturing community finds the answers as valuable and inspiring as we do.”

“There are over a hundred voices represented in the survey sharing what keeps them up at night, what gets them out of bed in the morning and the hope they have through it all,” said Carrie Sowders, Partner at Aldrich CPAs + Advisors. “It is an honor to serve and be a part of the manufacturing community in our region.”

Workforce: A Top Challenge and Priority
Consistent with what Schwabe and Aldrich hear from their manufacturing clients, the survey revealed that workforce issues are by far the biggest concern facing the industry. Three-quarters of manufacturers said improving and expanding the workforce is their top priority in the coming year. They expressed a need for talent, predominately skilled labor, but some also highlighted a need for effective administrative staff, sales managers and executive leadership. A c-suite company executive in the wood products industry notes in the anonymous survey that, “The [biggest challenge] we are having is finding folks … And the [number] of candidates.”

Positive Outlook Despite Tax Policy Effects on Business Climate
Nearly all manufacturers are extremely positive about the future of their organizations, even more so than about the business climate in their states. When it comes to the business outlook for their organizations, more than eight in ten of those surveyed would characterize it as positive. When asked about the business climate in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington manufacturers are equally likely to provide a positive rating despite large differences in tax policy in each state.

“Originating in the Pacific Northwest provides a reputational advantage based on the natural resource consciousness our region is known for. Those natural resources provide the foundation for our business,” says a director-level executive in the food and beverage manufacturing industry.

Manufacturers are much more critical of tax policies in Oregon and believe Oregon is less business friendly than other states. Two-thirds of Oregon participants describe the state’s tax policy as anti-business, compared to just over a third in Washington.

Growing Pains and Opportunities
The survey shows that 55 percent of participants are concerned their organization is unprepared to overcome its biggest challenge. Manufacturers surveyed identified improving the workforce as their top long-standing challenge that more than half are unprepared to address. Other challenges included logistical and operational issues and new and costly regulations. “The Pacific Northwest has a high cost operating environment that doesn’t ‘export’ well to the rest of the USA,” says a c-suite manufacturing executive.

Technology Impacts and Benefits
Automated manufacturing is expected to have the largest impact on Pacific Northwest manufacturers in the next two years, followed by advanced data analytics and automated vehicles. Survey participants identified increasing manufacturing speed as the biggest benefit of new technologies, followed by decreased labor costs and increase in quality. Washington stakeholders were especially likely to say they are significantly increasing their technological investments (44 percent, compared to 22 percent in Oregon). Organizations hope these investments will improve and help grow their businesses.

Executive Leadership Transition
Only two out of five manufacturing firms have a plan in place for executive leadership transition. The organizations without a plan tend to be smaller in size, with revenues of less than $5 million per year. The majority of companies surveyed said their transition time frame is five or more years and many – 24 percent – said they have no plan in place at all.

Participant Profile
The study, conducted by DHM Research, includes thoughts from executives representing long-standing manufacturers based in the Pacific Northwest, primarily in Oregon and Washington. A strong majority of those who responded serve in executive leadership positions in their organizations. The industries represented varied widely, with the most responses came from food and beverage industry and metals and machinery manufacturers.
The full survey findings can now be downloaded at


About Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt – Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt is a law firm that offers a new type of client experience based ‎on ‎‎a ‎‎deep industry focus. We provide full-spectrum legal services to our clients through ‎‎‎comprehensive, ‎‎proactive and industry-focused support to help them achieve their goals. We ‎‎focus on six industry ‎‎groups: Healthcare; Technology; Transportation, Ports and Maritime; Real ‎‎Estate and ‎‎Construction; Natural Resources; and Manufacturing, Distribution, and Retail. ‎With ‎more ‎‎than ‎‎‎175 attorneys, Schwabe is one of the largest Pacific Northwest ‎regional law firms, ‎with ‎‎offices in ‎‎Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Bend, Eugene, Salem, Anchorage and Mountain View, ‎‎CA.