UpFront: Be Careful Out There
By Brian J. Hogan
A Hollywood character named Sam Goldwyn once remarked: "It's really hard to make predictions, especially about the future." How can you argue with that? Still, the future is where we're all going to live, like it or not, so even if we don't make hard predictions, we must at least try to figure out whether we'll need to consider purchasing body armor in 2009.
We begin a new year and prospects are, at best, mixed. We live in a country run by a political class that consists mostly of attorneys and lifelong politicians with little work experience outside the political realm. To such people, manufacturing is a strange, dark land, far from their normal haunts.
Members of the political class occasionally mention manufacturing in an approving way as a source of good jobs at good wages. How good do they really think those jobs and wages are? What do they really think of manufacturing?
Consider your senator/governor/congressman for a moment. Try to imagine the reaction of that person if his/her son or daughter went to work in a manufacturing plant—in any capacity, hourly or salaried. More likely than not, that member of our political class would be as stricken as though there had been a death in the family. To such people, social status is associated with types of employment that have nothing to do with the manufacture of products and components. And the income derived from such employment most likely will not buy a fragment of the lifestyle they deem appropriate.
In the months that lie ahead, manufacturing professionals would be wise not to place much faith in aid from our political class. The politicos will take steps that are primarily intended to bolster their positions and secure their futures. Substantive aid to manufacturing is not likely to help them achieve either objective.
When sorrows come, Shakespeare wrote, they come not as single spies, but in battalions. He was what my pals in Boston used to call "a smaaht guy." Many bad things are happening in the global economy and in the US economy, and this year all of them will probably get worse. Attend carefully to your business, to your cash position, and to your customers. In difficult times, customers appreciate good work performed on schedule. Before you accept an order, make sure the folks you're working for can pay you for the parts you produce. And consider investing in new equipment and new processes. Some very good manufacturing equipment builders are going to be in dire straits this year, and you will likely encounter a buyer's market.
Or maybe all the above is rubbish, and Sam Goldwyn was right. I hope so.
This article was first published in the January 2009 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.