Manufacturers in the South East are focused on future growth, despite the challenges of the pandemic and Brexit.
Although around a quarter do not expect a return to pre-pandemic trading levels this year, some sectors, such as electronics, were seeing encouraging growth. This was discussed at the latest online event for the Sussex-based Manufacturing Engineering & Technology Alliance (METALL), organised by Carpenter Box, Coast to Capital and DMH Stallard.
Chris Beck, editor of Manufacturing Management magazine, highlighted the uncertainty faced by manufacturers over the last year, with many business owners worried about the survival of their businesses.
Chris commented: "Times remain hard for manufacturers, but the UK economy is beginning to open up and business confidence and manufacturing output is starting to grow. This was reflected in the March 2021 PMI hitting its highest level for more than 10 years.
"However, Make UK recently reported that more than 25% of manufacturers do not expect to see their businesses returning to pre-pandemic levels for more than a year."
Many businesses have survived through collaboration, resilience and their problem-solving skills, as highlighted on the webinar by Kathy Caton, founder and MD of Brighton Gin.
Kathy explained: "We'll always find a way around challenges. Although Brexit has been spectacularly difficult for us and 90% of our customers in the hospitality industry remained closed during the pandemic, we were able to change production virtually overnight.
"We had all the ingredients, so we decided to make not-for-profit hand sanitiser; for every one sold over our website, two were donated to frontline workers. We have also started to produce new products with a new gin size and ready-to-drink products in recyclable cans that can be drunk outside."
Alan Edmonds, MD of Littlehampton-based SI Protech UK, described how post-Brexit arrangements covering delivery costs, tariffs and duties had significantly impacted the company's exports, but that he remained confident for the longer term.
Tony Summers, Partner and Head of Manufacturing at Carpenter Box, said that while the trading environment remained challenging, local manufacturers were showing remarkable resilience, agility and innovation in adapting to the new normal.