More uncertainty, fewer new workers
Whether it's manufacturing executives being worried about the economy slowing down or companies getting greater productivity out of their plants, it is clear many manufacturing companies are thinking twice before hiring more workers.
That's happening at United Displaycraft. The company builds and sells custom displays for retail stores throughout North America, with 225 workers filling orders 24 hours a day, five days a week.
(Read more: US industrial output up in August)
But with business slowing down, Carrigan is holding off on filling open jobs. "Just yesterday my COO came in and said, 'We've got four open jobs on the second shift,' and I said 'We really have to see business pick up again before we hire those guys back full time.'"
In the past 12 months the U.S. economy has added just 20,000 new manufacturing jobs. Since bottoming out in January of 2010 with 11.46 million jobs, the manufacturing sector has added a little over a half million jobs.
Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, believes U.S. manufacturing companies will add more jobs, but the hiring will be modest. "I think we will see an uptick in manufacturing employment, but the dirt is in the details and it is off a very low base. It is not going to be the hundreds of thousands of jobs it once was 20 or 30 years ago," said Swonk.
Phelan agreed. "Small manufacturers are not going to be in a position to hire a lot of new people, because they just don't have more systems, more conveyors and more property plant equipment to put them to work."
(Read more: US factory activity loses momentum in September: Markit)