Carlton Guthrie sees bright times ahead. After weathering the 2001 recession, his motorhome chassis manufacturing company has made enough money to pay off some debts and position itself to expand.
But he’s not planning to add jobs.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Guthrie, co-chairman of Michigan’s Detroit Chassis which supplies the RV industry with Ford F-53 Class A motorhome chassis, is part of a growing number of businesses that are intent on keeping employment low and production high. 
“I don’t see us hiring anytime soon,” said Guthrie. “I see tremendous amount of room for us becoming more efficient.”
Guthrie’s ability to expand his business without enlarging the payroll – a feat achieved by many executives across the nation – helps explain why job creation continues to be sluggish even while the economy appears to be booming.
The U.S. economy grew at a brisk 4.4% clip last year, but the number of jobs recovered to the levels of early 2001 only last month. Today’s job growth is more than twice as slow as it was after the 1990-91 recession, and slower than during any recovery since World War II, analysts say. The disparity is fueling a growing debate about whether such low employment growth is a harbinger of a world in which businesses can rake in increasing profits without trickling much of it down to workers.
“Until now, this recovery has been all about businesses,” said economist Mark Zandi of Economy.com, an economic research firm in West Chester, Pa. “Businesses are in about as good a financial shape as I’ve seen them.”
Manufacturers like Guthrie are pinched by price competition and required to continually cut costs. Other executives are wary about expanding payrolls in a time of ballooning health-care premiums.
According to the Times, Detroit Chassis also has become less person-intensive. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, the recreational vehicle market slowed. With orders dropping, Guthrie laid off about 50 employees and cut salaries by 30% across the board – including management.
He’s since revamped the way his plant operates to squeeze every ounce of efficiency out of his staff, boosting output by about 30%. Revenues now have improved enough for him to bring pay levels back to where they were before the terrorist attacks. And he’s retired about 30% of his company’s $8 million debt.
Now, Guthrie said, workers are finding new efficiencies every day. In return, he’s not cutting jobs, but redeploying employees to new ventures, such as creating new safety products for RVs and trucks. ”We’re running at warp speed right now,” he said.
But those new endeavors will not require more employees quite yet, Guthrie said. As of late 2004, the company employed approximately 250 workers at its 218,000-square-foot facility.
He said he could hire more people by year-end if the ventures do well, but, for now, improvements in technology and organization will allow him to make new products with the same staff.