CIRAS Assessment Finds That Iowa Manufacturers Need Strategy, Technology Help

Iowa manufacturers need help developing strategies, exploring new markets, implementing proven ways of dealing with workforce constraints, and wielding technology as a competitive advantage.

Those are the findings from a 2015-16 CIRAS Needs Assessment based on a survey of more than 250 manufacturers.

In short, the survey found that one-quarter of Iowa manufacturers are doing well, with a reported return on sales of more than 15 percent. Three out of four manufacturers, however, reported margins much slimmer.

Other findings include the following:

  • Iowa manufacturers see health care costs as the single largest, looming threat to their growth over the next few year
  • Despite complaints about a scarcity of workers, few Iowa companies have adopted proven techniques for managing that resource, such as embracing automation or lean manufacturing.
  • There’s a mismatch at many Iowa manufacturers between the stated strategy and what a company actually is doing. The survey found, for example, that only 62 percent of Iowa manufacturers with an innovation-first strategy have implemented 3D CAD and other similar tools that could help them prepare for the coming wave of manufacturing technology. Only 50 percent of self-described innovative companies have a formal process for bringing new ideas to market.
  • Those manufacturing companies that have embraced 3D CAD and advanced engineering tools tend to worry less about their ability to cope with things like a perceived workforce shortage.

CIRAS is using these results as a blueprint for mapping our own strategy for the services we’ll be providing in 2017. The year ahead includes, among other things, a focus on helping companies improve their implementation of productivity measures, helping them explore new opportunities in new markets, and assisting them in a leap toward digital manufacturing technology.

We also are preparing to launch another needs assessment in 2017 as part of our continual effort to remain in touch with Iowa manufacturers.

For details, see the most recent completed version of the Needs Assessment here or contact CIRAS program manager Mike O’Donnell at


 A version of this article was published in the Winter 2017 edition of CIRAS News. To read more of that edition or others, please explore elsewhere on our website.