The Powder Coating Institute (PCI) held its annual business meeting on May 17-18 in Marco Island, Florida. This meeting was very important to the members to review the state of the industry and trends for future business. The last two years have seen the slowest growth in the powder coating industry since PCI began keeping statistics. Is it better now, and will it continue to get better? We are all wondering if recovery is inclusive for all industries and geographic areas or isolated to specific sectors, and whether or not it will last.

No one can really predict the future, especially with world events in such a state of unrest. It would be overboard to say that we came away "pumped," but there were some positive signs. For beginners, the attendance was the same as last year. No gains, but more importantly, no losses. That tells us that the members are still committed and expect some return on their time and efforts from participation in PCI.

Steve Houston of DuPont Powder Coatings opened the meeting by pointing out that PCI committees held 26 meetings with a roll call of 259 members who sat in on these meetings. There is still a lot of positive activity in all of these vital committees. Companies continue to invest and support the industry, which is evidence of positive expectations about the future.

As to the trends in business, Greg Bocchi, executive director of PCI, discussed growth in material volume and equipment sales in the past year. Very encouraging signs for an industry that has struggled to maintain itself in the previous year.

In a recently released newsletter, Jeff Palmer of PCI included some information about the general economic trends that support expectations for continued growth. The Conference Board, publishers of the U.S. leading economic indicators, announced May 19th that the U.S. leading index increased by 0.1% in April, "signaling the continuation of this relatively strong rate of economic growth in the near term." Four of the 10 indicators that make up the leading index increased in April.

Beginning with the largest positive contributor, they are interest rate spread, real money supply, building permits and stock prices. Negative contributors, beginning with the largest negative contributor, were average weekly manufacturing hours, manufacturers' new orders for consumer goods and materials, vendor performance, index of consumer expectations, manufacturers' new orders for nondefense capital goods and average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance. If one or two of these indicators move up in the coming weeks we will see some broad improvement.

The newsletter also contained information about the upcoming show and conference program for Powder Coating 2004, to be held September 21-23, at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, NC. About 85% of the available 57,500 square feet of exhibit space has already been sold, with 167 exhibitors reserving space to date. This show will be a good indicator of the prospects for the industry as it moves into the last quarter of 2004 and the first quarter of 2005.

Overall, the feeling at the meeting was upbeat. But we all know that some of the issues that affect economic success, such as fuel prices and global stability, are shaky right now. So we will continue to be optimistic but remain cautious.