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State of the Industry: Signage & Manufacturing

signage-manufacturingWe can all breath a sigh of relief: 2020 is finally nearing its end. This year has been a rollercoaster of events—read: the COVID-19 pandemic, the election, wildfires in the western U.S., and other events—many of which have impacted the business world. Of course, the events of the past year have also impacted the signage manufacturing sector. We’re going to cover how the pandemic, recent legislation, and the growing skills gap are changing the face of the industry.

Covid-19 Impacts

The pandemic affected each business uniquely due to differing state and municipal guidelines. Thus, each businesses’ location had an impact on operations, leading to shutdowns, employee furloughs, and, of course, some financial woes.

At the beginning of the pandemic, it was somewhat unclear about what companies were essential or not. However, sign companies were quickly deemed essential as they contributed to the essential production of restaurant takeout signs, face shields, social distancing graphics, and POS barriers for businesses. This eased some of the financial burdens for many of these businesses.

For many signage manufacturing businesses, remote work was not possible. This forced them to revise and reduce traffic patterns to maintain social distancing within the manufacturing spaces. This also including implementing other safe practices in the workplace.

Recent Zoning Legislation

Of course, the world of signage has changed outside of COVID-19. Some of these changes have happened in the courtroom surrounding zoning codes. Navigating municipal zoning codes is a constant battle for sign companies.

Most legislation pertaining to zoning codes in the last year stems from the 2015 SCOTUS case Reed v. Town of Gilbert. In this case, a multi-site church was using temporary signage to tell people where the service was happening each week. Gilbert’s sign code limited how long these kinds of signs could be displayed, even though the code allowed for other types of temporary signs, even those including ideological messages, to be larger and to be displayed over longer periods. The Court found that this restriction was content-based and was a violation of the First Amendment.

Reagan & Lamar v. City of Austin

Two other recent court cases both stem from the precedent set in Reed v. Town of Gilbert. In late August of this year, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dealt with the case of Reagan National & Lamar Outdoor v. City of Austin. In this case, the court found that restricting the digitization of off-premise signs was content-based and also a violation of the First Amendment. In this case, off-premise versus on-premise signs are differentiated by whether the sign’s content is related to the goods, services, or business located on the property on which the sign resides. If the sign does contain content related to the goods, services, or business located on its same property then it is on-premise. The opposite is true for off-premise.

International Outdoor, Inc. v. City of Troy

The other recent court case was International Outdoor, Inc. v. City of Troy. The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals received this case in early September. International Outdoor was seeking a zoning variance to put up billboards that exceeded the city’s sign code limitations. However, the city subjected such zoning variances to broad and subjective review at the discretion of city decision-makers. The Court found that such review was unconstitutional as signs may not be subject to standardless review.

The Growing Skills Gap

Other challenges faced by the signage and manufacturing industries are more internal, specifically for those sign companies who manufacture custom signs in-house. These challenges come down to something that those in the manufacturing world call the “skills gap.” There simply aren’t enough skilled workers to meet the demand. As technology continues to develop, manufacturing jobs require workers to quickly adapt to such changes. Unfortunately, many workers do not have the skills to do this.

This issue results from two things: one, the education system does not promote skilled labor as a viable job field, leading fewer students to pursue careers in it. Fewer and fewer students are attending trade school. Second, most manufacturing workers currently in the field do not have the skills to adapt to the rapidly changing technology in manufacturing. This lack of skilled labor could hurt the bottom line for many companies, or at least limit growth. Without enough workers to meet the demand, companies will have to turn away potential work.

How are manufacturing companies meeting this challenge? Many are providing training for current employees to grow their skills. This way, current employees will be able to adapt to technological changes. Some are investing in apprenticeship programs to encourage students to pursue skilled labor careers and to prepare them for a digitized manufacturing world. Still others are advocating for educational reform that provides students with the flexibility to obtain additional education as necessary.

Despite the setbacks in recent years, those in signage manufacturing can look up and out with new zoning regulations and methods of dealing with the skills gap. COVID-19 has also forced companies to adapt, leading to innovative solutions that will keep the industry moving.

For more information on this topic you can also check out our podcast, The Innovation Room.

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