Path to ProsperityClick image to enlargeby Noelle Stapinsky

“Slightly optimistic” might be one way to describe the results of our Business Outlook 2021 reader survey. Most respondents seem to expect a continued but gradual economic recovery, with a modest uptick in positive indicators.

While almost exactly half of respondents expect to invest the same amount in new machinery and equipment in 2022 as they did this year, thirty per cent say they’ll spend more, significantly more than those who say they’ll tighten the purse strings. On the chip side, cutting tools top spending plans, with machining centres, automation & robotics and “other” more or less tied for second. For welders and fabricators, welding equipment tops the list with automation & robotics following up.

Sales patterns don’t look set to change much. The biggest segment of our respondents—just under 35 per cent—anticipate 2021 sales in the $1 million to $10 million range. Almost 43 per cent come in under that mark, with slightly over nine per cent above it. For 2022, that $1 million–$10 million tranche is up slightly at 36.7 per cent, with just under 41 per cent lower and about ten per cent higher.

On other fronts, 58 per cent expect to hire in the next year, 39 per cent see themselves expanding operations and 29.8 per cent say they’ll expand into new markets. The downside: 12.8 per cent will be downsizing and 2.8 per cent will be laying workers off.

Four fifths say they haven’t changed from an overseas supplier or contractor to one in Canada or the US in the last 12 months. Two thirds say COVID forced them to re-evaluate their supply chain. Four fifths say Ottawa needs to develop a comprehensive national manufacturing policy, two thirds are actively trying to reduce their carbon footprint, 43.7 per cent experienced growth in 2020 and almost two thirds have an apprenticeship/skills development program or plan in place. 

Some data on the respondents: almost three quarters have been in business for 20 years or more, with one fifth logging 11–20 years. The vast majority—83.7 per cent—have most of their customers in Canada, with the US next, supplying most of the customers for 14.3 per cent. The distribution of industries was pretty even, with agricultural equipment, automotive, the energy sector and “other” leading the pack, each at around 30 per cent, followed by natural resources, machine building, and services (multiple answers were allowed).

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