Purpose This paper aims to assess the impact of 2008 recession (Great Recession)-led environmental turbulence on the manufacturing small and medium enterprise (SME) sector and its related competitive priorities. Design/methodology/approach A mixed methods research strategy, consisting of a survey of 104 manufacturing SMEs located in the UK, complemented by 17 in-depth interviews with senior management representatives from this survey group. Findings Senior managers have prompted a realignment of competitive manufacturing priorities accounting for external financial and market conditions. Differing competitive priorities post-recession are given to various areas of manufacturing decision-making, the greatest impact being on manufacturing costs. Manufacturing flexibility, performance in meeting customer deliveries and enhancing supplier selection are merited to increase priority with relatively little change for process technology, quality and environmental practices. Research limitations/implications The sample of survey participants was relatively small, therefore prohibiting an assessment of differences in competitive priorities by sub-sectors of manufacturing SMEs. This was offset by a healthy number of informative, in-depth interviews that provided a richness of examples and insight into the shifting priorities for the sector. Practical implications Clear priorities have emerged around reducing manufacturing costs, being more flexible in manufacturing and improving outward performance relating to customers and suppliers. Originality/value This builds on established manufacturing strategy constructs and points to necessary competitive priority realignment focused on the performance areas listed above.