The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) released its final Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey of the year, which showed optimism climbing from its low in the second quarter brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the fourth quarter, 74.2% of manufacturers responding to the survey felt positive about their own company’s outlook, up from 66% last quarter. While encouraging, a wide gap remains between today’s numbers and the 90% average in 2019.

After two quarters with weaker domestic demand topping the list of primary business challenges, the inability to attract and retain talent lead the pack once again in the fourth quarter with 62.4% of respondents listing it as their primary current business challenge. Prior to COVID-19, workforce challenges had been the main concern for 10 consecutive quarters. According to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 525,000 job openings in manufacturing in October, a record high.

View the complete survey results and comments.