Even so, the average business owner â€œsees a very strong environment right now,â€ said Oren Klachkin, the lead economist for U.S. industry and regional research at Oxford Economics. â€œThey want to ramp up investment because they want to meet that demand â€” and they have every reason to invest.â€
Jeff Somple, the president of Mack Molding â€” a contract manufacturer in Arlington, Vt., that creates custom components and full products for other companies â€” said business had been profitable, booming even. But staffing and nagging supply hurdles have meant his factoriesâ€™ production capacity canâ€™t keep up. His team has often had to turn down orders as a result.
â€œEvery day, our No. 1 challenge is chasing down the parts that we need to make the products,â€ whether thatâ€™s raw resin or a circuit board from China, and then â€œscrambling to find enough peopleâ€ to work on assembly, he said.
The company has raised entry-level pay to about $15 an hour and average wages to roughly $20 an hour. That didnâ€™t stop a rush of employees from quitting or switching careers just as business was picking up.
Some preferred work-from-home opportunities, Mr. Somple said, or the option for more flexible hours than those on offer at a factory floor. Of those who have remained, many have been absent because of the spread of Covid-19 infections this winter: â€œItâ€™s kind of Whac-a-Mole here when we come in on Monday and we ask, â€˜Whoâ€™s showing up to work and what parts are showing up that we can put into the products that we make?â€™â€
When bidding for circuit boards, the lead time â€” the number of days from when an order is placed to when those items arrive at a plant â€” has been a year in some cases. â€œWe might have 30 different suppliers that weâ€™re depending on to make one product,â€ he explained. â€œSo if one supplier has a problem and lets us down, you know we could be shutting down an entire production line that has 20 people working on it because we canâ€™t get this one thing.â€
Leisure, hospitality, travel and other related service-based sectors are bracing for the worst of winter and whatâ€™s left of the Omicron surge, while gearing up for what businesses and consumers hope will be a lively return to something resembling normal.