In some respects, the last half of 2008 and almost all of 2009 was a time when the world collectively held its breath, as we watched the global economy come to a sudden halt and teeter on the brink of serious disaster. The money supply literally froze as banks stopped lending. The U.S. housing market dropped precipitously. The American automotive industry, a mainstay of U.S. manufacturing, also wavered on the edge, with two of the Big Three automakers going into bankruptcy proceedings.

For the ranks of the employed, people worked with a certain grave persistence that comes knowing cuts are happening, and you might be one of them. For the unemployed, that same grave persistence was applied to indescribably frustrating jobs hunts. Leaders and owners of businesses hunkered down with what appeared to me to be an almost war-like mentality. Their approach: this is going to be ugly, but we must get through it.

2009 was the year that very little movement happened in the coatings industry. Fewer mergers and acquisitions, or even personnel changes, took place. And as the results for the PCI 25 and Global Top 10 show, with few exceptions, paint companies in the United States, as well as global leaders, had lower or, at best, stagnant sales for 2009. Quarterly statements and annual reports for the period revealed over and over the same story: the global economic crisis created serious challenges for coatings companies and their suppliers, and companies managed the crisis by quickly cutting costs and carefully managing their margins.

But 2010 is beginning to look like the year where we all exhale and begin to slowly grow again. The economy is moving once more. It started where it slowed the least, in Asia, but it is also picking up in the United States. For example, the automotive industry is doing better. Ford Motor Co. reported a 22 percent increase in May for U.S. light-vehicle sales, and GM reported a 32 percent increase in domestic sales for the four brands the company kept after restructuring.

Quarterly statements coming out for the first quarter of 2010 are almost all reporting a much more positive tone. For its first quarter, PPG reported a sales increase of 12 percent compared to 2008, with sales in the Industrial Coatings segment increasing 39 percent compared to the prior year. In its second-quarter report, Valspar reported a sales increase of 20.2 percent compared to the same period last year, prompting the company to increase its earnings guidance for 2010. AkzoNobel reported a six-percent increase in revenue for the first quarter of 2010, and the company continues to invest. So far this year, AkzoNobel has announced expansions in China and an acquisition in the United States. DuPont reported that sales in its Performance Coatings segment were up 23 percent for the first quarter of 2010, and Sherwin-Williams has already announced two new acquisitions in 2010.

The positive news in quarterly statements reinforces what analysts are saying. According to a study by The Freedonia Group, demand for architectural paint is forecast to rise 3.6 percent per year into 2013. While this growth is recognized as less than the robust growth that was experienced in 2003-2008, it does indicate growth and worldwide demand for coatings, particularly in the world’s emerging markets.

The other sign that gives me hope for the future is the continued commitment in the coatings industry to research and development. At PCI, we continue to receive, almost daily, news releases about new products developed by coatings suppliers and manufacturers. If there was a theme to the American Coatings Show, it was the industry’s emphasis on moving forward through innovation in areas such as waterborne technology, smart coatings and nanotechnology.

In 2009, we all held our breath and hoped for the best. And while these last 18 months have been challenging for companies and individuals, the good news is that we survived. While companies struggled with cost cutting and reduced sales, they are still in business, ready to move forward and innovate. It is now time for us all to exhale and move forward.