Industry Forum: Forward-Looking Reflections
In the early 1980s, it was obvious that the future for powder coatings and new technologies in higher-efficiency liquid-application equipment made being a part of the finishing industry exciting. New powder coating systems were being installed in automotive, appliance, and lawn and garden applications as the 1980s progressed. There were new opportunities at every turn as people looked to improve their products, lower operational costs and deal with environmental issues. Suppliers to the industry struggled to keep up with the demand for better products and services.
The end of the 1980s and the early 1990s saw a slight slow down, but we all attributed that to a normal time to catch our breath as we prepared for the next growth spurt. The technology boom of the 1990s fueled new opportunities for the finishing industry. Powder coatings grew in the office furniture and computer industries. Manufacturing moving to Mexico was nothing to be concerned about. In fact, Mexico began to be seen as a new opportunity for both manufacturing and suppliers to the finishing industry. The momentum in the industry reached new levels. We began to believe that this would go on forever.
Then things began to "feel" different. Undercurrents in the economy as well as the 9/11 tragedy brought us back to earth with a jolt. The recession of the early years of this decade has been especially bad for the manufacturing sector of the economy. The exodus of manufacturing to the Far East has many people concerned about the long-term future of manufacturing in North America and, closer to home, the finishing industry that many of us rely on for our livelihoods. Suppliers to the industry have disappeared or have been acquired by other companies. The uncertainty of the future of manufacturing in North America clouds our vision of the industry's direction. The face of finishing looks very different today.
However, before we get too teary eyed, the more important part of the process of reflection is the look forward. The opportunities for the future are, in reality, as bright as they have ever been. Human nature is to remember the past as happy, forgetting the challenges that we faced.
The quality of the people in the industry remains high. Organizations such as Chemical Coaters Association International, The Powder Coating Institute and the Electrocoat Association, as well as others, continue to find ways of promoting the industry to manufacturing and the end users of the products that they make. The new face of the industry looks strong. Industry suppliers continue to develop new application equipment and coatings to meet the ever-changing directions of finishing. The synergistic effect of partnerships between customers and suppliers is helping achieve new levels of quality and cost reductions that will keep us competitive in the world market. The finishing industry has faced many threats before, and, as in the past, it will meet these challenges.
While consumer confidence and the expansion of factory inventories remain volatile, there are some bright points in the news. According to the Institute for Supply Management, U.S. factory activity expanded at the fastest pace in 20 years in December. In March, according to the Department of Labor, total nonfarm employment rose by 308,000.
The winds of change will continue to blow, but I am confident that many opportunities still exist in the finishing industry, even for "old timers."