SAVANNAH, GA—The U.S. economy may still be slumping, but two analysts are predicting better times for manufacturing companies in the United States.

Jeff Thredgold, president of Thredgold Economic Associates in Salt Lake City, told 175 attendees during the Industrial Asset Management Council (IAMC) Professional Forum that "the worst times are behind us," and 2003 is shaping up as a very positive year for U.S. industrial firms. One reason manufacturers should fare better in 2003 is that they became leaner and more efficient in 2002.

Thredgold noted that manufacturing, construction and mining accounted for 25 percent of the U.S. economy in 1960, 1970, 1980 and 1990, and still accounts for 25 percent of the economy. The only difference today is that it takes fewer workers to do these jobs. As a result, productivity rose 4.6 percent in the last 12 months. This is the strongest growth in 26 years.

Jim Bruce, president of Business Facility Planning Consultants in Norcross, GA, told IAMC attendees that cost competitiveness is another reason U.S. manufacturing firms will remain world leaders. "The United States is still the least expensive major industrial nation for manufacturing," says Bruce. "The bad news is that the United States has no national industrial policy, and that’s not good."

Bruce says that manufacturers today must pay special attention to rising labor costs, taxes, transportation support networks and speed to market.

One pressing issue for many communities in the United States is a lack of available industrial land, notes Bruce. "Many cities are running out of land, utility capacity and other essentials for development," he says.