Public Perception of US Steel Facilities

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Public Perception of US Steel Facilities

The majority of Americans have a positive overall perception of the US manufacturing industry, with most viewing manufacturing companies as essential to the strength of the US economy and national security, as well as consistent with their values around sustainability and buying locally. However, Americans are also concerned about the future of this industry, and believe that the government needs to do more to promote the strength and stability of manufacturing companies and the jobs they create. Meanwhile, an analysis of the less positive perceptions related to manufacturing facilities is included within the subsequent discussion of industry jobs.

US Perceptions of Manufacturing Industry

Overall Positive Viewpoint

  • An exhaustive review of the latest surveys and research (e.g., Brookings Institution Manufacturing Survey, Thomas Manufacturing Perception Report, L2L Manufacturing Index) covering US public perceptions of the manufacturing industry confirms that Americans generally have a positive view of manufacturing companies and their significance as part of American daily life.
  • Overall, the 2019 Brookings Institution Manufacturing Survey revealed that the majority (58%) of US citizens have a positive sentiment towards manufacturing in the country, compared to only 10% who view the industry in a negative light.
  • Similarly, the Brookings Institution found that many Americans view media coverage of the industry as unfairly negative (37%).
  • This generally positive sentiment towards the US manufacturing industry appears to be driven by the consistently reported belief that manufacturing companies and their operations in the country are "important" or "vital" to the US economy. Specifically:
    • The latest Brookings Institution survey found that most (58%) of Americans consider this industry to be vital to the US economy.
    • Similarly, the 2019 L2L Manufacturing Index determined that almost all (87%) of US citizens believe that manufacturing is important to the US economy.
    • Most recently, the 2019 Thomas Manufacturing Perception Report determined that an even more significant 95% of US citizens believe that manufacturing is important to the US economy
  • Notably, the L2L Manufacturing Index revealed that this perception is consistent across political affiliations, with 88% of conservatives and 86% of liberals viewing manufacturing as essential to the health of the country's economy, while 89% of conservatives and 85% of liberals consider manufacturing to be key to the future growth of business in the US.
  • However, the Brookings Institution found that older generations are more likely to value manufacturing as part of the US economy, with 71% of those over 55 years seeing the industry as "very important," compared to only 45% of Americans between 18 and 34 years old.
  • Meanwhile, the Thomas Manufacturing Perception Report also found that 87% of Americans believe that manufacturing is very or somewhat important to national security, adding that many Americans believe that US-based manufacturing companies support their desire for sustainability and/or products that are made in America.

Negative Perceptions

  • This past April 2019, Forbes reported that "three false narratives" are generally responsible for negative perceptions about manufacturing among Americans, specifically:
  • While the latter two opinions relate more directly to jobs in the manufacturing industry, and are discussed further below, the first viewpoint that the manufacturing industry is in decline is widely corroborated by numerous surveys and research studies.
  • Perhaps most directly, the L2L Manufacturing Index found that over two-thirds (70%) of Americans believe that the manufacturing industry is currently "in decline."
  • In particular, US citizens believe that manufacturing jobs in the country are shrinking (58%), largely due to the rise of artificial intelligence (54%) and outsourcing (41%).
  • In parallel, the Brookings Institution and Thomas Manufacturing Perception Report found that only a small segment of Americans (between 17% and 25%) are "confident about the future" of the industry.
  • Notably, Americans in the Midwest (19%) as well as men (21%) are the most likely to be "very confident" about the future of manufacturing in this country.
  • Meanwhile, perhaps owing to Americans' largely positive perception of the industry, at least half of Americans believe that the US government "should do more to help" this industry, compared with only 16% who do not.

Despite Americans' widespread support of the manufacturing industry, the general public has a less positive view of jobs within the sector, in part due to the belief that factories are "dirty" or "decrepit" work environments.

US Public Perception of Manufacturing Industry Jobs

  • The Brookings Institution Manufacturing Survey, Thomas Manufacturing Perception Report, L2L Manufacturing Index, Grant Thornton the SME Education Foundation are among the preponderance of industry experts that report Americans are much less receptive to jobs in the manufacturing industry.
  • Overall, the L2L Manufacturing Index found that up to 60% of manufacturing positions remain unfilled in the US due to "false industry perceptions," such as those highlighted by Forbes.
  • Notably, researchers suggest that as few as one-third of Americans would consider encouraging others to pursue a career in manufacturing.
  • While the Thomas Manufacturing Perception Report suggested as many as 60% of US citizens would encourage the general population to take a job in the industry, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Manufacturing Institute and the Brookings Institution found that as few as 30% would encourage such a move, particularly for their own children.
  • Additionally, the L2l Manufacturing Index found that younger generations are generally unwilling to consider a career in manufacturing, with only 26% of Millennials and 27% of Generation Z open to such a career path.
  • According to the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, American teenagers have less of an interest in manufacturing jobs because they view the industry as a "declining field, with unprofessional, dead-end jobs, dirty factories and frequent layoffs."
  • Similarly, the SME Education Foundation found that many parents younger than 35 years old and at least one-fifth of American parents overall consider manufacturing to be an "outdated" career choice for their children that has a "dirty work environment."
  • Meanwhile, the L2L Manufacturing Index offered broader insight into what discourages Americans from considering manufacturing jobs:
    • As with the preceding studies, the L2L Manufacturing Index found that Americans have an overall belief that jobs in manufacturing are "repetitive, monotonous, underpaid, and involve working in decrepit, dirty factories."
    • Additionally, over 50% of Americans assume that manufacturing managers earn very little, believing that wages are approximately half of what manufacturing managers actually earn.
    • Specifically, 53% of Americans believe that manufacturing managers earn less than $60,000 per year, despite an average salary of $118,500 as of 2018.
    • Meanwhile, only 55% of US citizens believe that manufacturing jobs offer fulfilling careers.

While Nucor enjoys a largely positive perception among the US public for its industry leadership and reputation as an employer, US Steel appears to struggle with more mixed opinions over the company's recent factory closures as well as US Steel's mixed financial outlook.

Nucor

  • Corroborating this finding, North Carolina State University's Tweet Sentiment Visualization App similarly shows that almost all recent Tweets about the company are positive, as depicted within the following graphic:
  • Such positive perceptions of the company on social media appear to be driven by views about Nucor as a good employer and as a model company.
  • Meanwhile, media coverage of the company over the past year has been largely positive, highlighting recent corporate acquisitions (e.g., TrueCore) and factory expansions (Kentucky, Mississippi).
  • Perhaps most notably, investor trade The Motley Fool recently described Nucor as the "Coca-Cola of the Steel Industry," based on the company's persistent recognition as an industry leader in the US and worldwide.

United States Steel Corporation

  • In contrast to Nucor, United States Steel Corporation (US Steel) appears to struggle with a more mixed reputation among the American public, as indicated by its brand ranking, sentiment on social media and media coverage.
  • Unlike Nucor, US Steel is not generally recognized as one of the top 500 US brands according to Brand Finance, and placed only once in the recent past as a top mining, iron and steel brand globally (US Steel ranked in last place among this cohort in 2019).
  • Although the company's following on social media somewhat matches Nucor across LinkedIn (58.4 thousand followers), Facebook (10 followers), Twitter (6,742 followers), Instagram (272 followers) and other social media accounts, the sentiment underlying related posts is more mixed.
  • Perhaps most notably, a Social Searcher analysis of public sentiment towards the brand on social media indicates a higher volume of negative posts (10%) and a lower volume of positive messages (17%). Additional related details are depicted below.
  • In parallel, North Carolina State University's Tweet Sentiment Visualization App shows a more meaningful volume of neutral or negative Tweets about the company, as depicted within the following graphic:
  • This less positive sentiment appears to be related to both the recent facility closures and outsourcing activity by US Steel as well as the company's namesake, which appears to tie the company to more controversial political discussions about the US steel industry in general.
  • Meanwhile, recent media coverage of the company also presents a more mixed picture of its popularity, wherein recent news of company investments (e.g., Pittsburgh, Braddock) are frequently juxtaposed against concerns over US Steel's strength and solvency into the future (e.g., The Wall Street Journal, Market Realist).
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