By Gene Russell, Manex President & CEO

California Manufacturers operating in a challenging environment for the past four decades show their toughness and flexibility on the COVID-19 battlefront.

Essential manufacturers have stayed open, learning and adapting, while many others attempted to pivot into essential medical products such as devices and PPE. The balance are opening now, depending on the county. Most are finding distancing to be the largest issue. Masks are also creating a communication issue, as most plant floor communication relies on the spoken word, not the email of the office world. Some environments are high noise, which makes communicating and distancing more challenging. Non-contact thermometers, sanitizers, cleaning protocols and signage have not been an issue.

About 60% of respondents to a recent Manex survey indicated that they had already used distance learning, webinars and other on-line tools. Most are open to these areas of training in the future. Many are anxious to get back to their Manex on-site programs with 20% ready immediately, and others indicating 3-4 week timelines and following CDC guidance. There are many sources for Covid-19 guidelines on the plant floor and in the office. Manex is available to provide an assessment and recommendations as well.

In terms of a seismic shift from pre to post-pandemic programs, sales training and marketing in general are key focus areas for our manufacturers, prior interests in operational excellence, food science and safety as well as quality programs remain strong. Manufacturers need to rebuild their pipelines and even pivot to new markets. As we all know, the business winners and losers were obvious only after the fact. Peloton is a winner, 24-hour Fitness is a loser. Manufacturing food for restaurants is a loser, manufacturing for grocery is a winner. Not a lot of brilliance in the win/lose game of changing markets. We see these examples everywhere. Rebuilding sales volume profitably is crucial. Pivoting to entirely new markets requires new supply chains and we see that being a high priority area for Northern CA manufacturers during and after Covid-19 recovery.

It’s pretty dangerous to predict a new normal but surviving the immediate and near term is a real concern in our community. One of my personal concerns is the rush to produce something that seems to be in high demand, without calculating competition, experience required, materials required, and the business model of a new industry segment. It is very easy for a segment, such as PPE to overshoot demand. Many organizations, schools, clubs are producing PPE with little knowledge and without purchase orders. Many are giving away sanitizers, and masks as a form of charity. Eventually, these items will be produced in excess and nowhere to go. Old safety and governmental regulations will return and some of it will not be purchased legally by hospitals. Manex can provide some counsel in this area, including industry studies from IBIS World, which we receive though our program. Without a well-informed SWOT analysis, I wouldn’t pull the trigger on entering a new market.

California manufacturers are a resilient, tough industry segment. Already a challenging environment facing globalization, and regionalization within the country post-pandemic management skills will be tested and honed. Surviving and thriving require sharp financial, operational, marketing and sales skills as we move forward. How can Manex help you?

About the Author

Gene Russell is President and CEO of Manex and has over 30 years of senior executive strategic planning, operational management, and consulting experience in the manufacturing and technology sectors. With his extensive knowledge of manufacturing operations, he has developed and implemented key strategic initiatives for companies, allowing them to improve performance and achieve profitable growth. He can be reached at