Catch manufacturing’s rising tide with agility – and a good team

Business agility really comes down to knowing your numbers and being proactive – not reactive

Greg Usselman

The recent expansion of manufacturing across the U.S. and here in the Northwest is reflected in indicators such as new orders, production, employment and export orders. That’s great news in our region, as manufacturing employs more than 290,000 people in Washington and more than 186,000 in Oregon. Combine the two states, and the sector produces an annual output worth nearly $108 billion. Even so, many savvy business owners understand economic cycles and remain cautiously optimistic.

As a commercial banking leader, I appreciate their perspective. Today’s manufacturers face an array of challenges such as finding and keeping skilled workers, managing uncertainty around regulatory import and export taxes, and navigating international transactions. Plus, many owners are at or near the age when succession planning is critical.

With so much to consider, how can business owners make the most of manufacturing’s rising tide and prepare for that one constant – change? Even positive changes, such as a new opportunity, can strain businesses of all sizes. The key, I remind my clients, is to be proactive, not reactive. Business agility really comes down to knowing your numbers.

Maintain current financials. Your recent profit and loss statement (P&L) and balance sheet help measure profitability and improve performance. They’re also vital when talking with your banker about opportunities and risks, and determining your funding needs. Waiting until you’re ready to act is too late to ask your accountant to update your financials.

Understand your company’s debt. You’ll be in a better position to discuss options for paying down debt or planning for increased capacity if you stay plugged in to this detail.

Assess and improve your cash flow. An experienced banker can provide an independent analysis and offer tips and tools for improvement. Even in a production upswing, it’s important to look for ways to save and leverage your cash flow.

Have a plan to increase capacity. Plans add stability and help reduce risk, and can be adjusted as your situation and the market change. However, if you wait for a new project or client, you may be too late to formulate and activate a plan, and could miss your opportunity.

In addition to remaining nimble, it’s important to surround yourself with trusted partners – accountants, attorneys and other advisors. As a banker in the Portland-Vancouver area for many years, I naturally view this from a financial perspective. In today’s marketplace, manufacturers can benefit from working with bankers who have the experience and resources to help you pursue your goals and guide you through unfamiliar aspects of doing business internationally as well as close to home.

Expect your banker to:

Understand your business and industry. You deserve a financial partner who takes the time to know your company, listens to your concerns and grasps your challenges – from sourcing materials to taking your product to market.

Offer relevant information and solutions. In addition to helping ensure you have the credit facilities and structure in place when you’re ready to execute, your banker should routinely present ideas and custom solutions to streamline the way you work.

Partner with international trade finance experts. Ideally, your banker will collaborate with his or her internal partners who specialize in international trade to offer solutions suited to your import-export needs.

Work with a SWIFT-registered bank. If you source or sell goods across the globe, having a bank that’s SWIFT- registered is vital to ensuring you receive quick, accurate payments from your international clients.

As a trusted member of your extended advisory team, the banker you choose should offer expertise to help you improve financial agility and guide you through an ever-changing economy. It’s a partnership that can and should make you more productive.

Greg Usselman is a vice president and Commercial Banking Center manager at Banner Bank. With nearly $10 billion in assets, Banner Bank partners with businesses and individuals to support their financial goals. Reach Usselman at gusselman@bannerbank.com or 360.213.0568. Member FDIC; Equal Housing Lender

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