Just 10 years ago a high percentage of the population was concerned about the new millennium … Y2K was upon us; all of our computer systems were going to crash; the economy was going to tank (well, that concern was legitimate but it took eight or nine years to happen); there were going to be invaders from outer space and Angelina Jolie was going to grow a wart on the end of her nose while Brad Pitt grew a third eye. None of this happened.
We as a species are paranoid. That’s why we have survived and been in control as long as we have. We overreact. We always overreact and we always regret our actions and decisions. For the last 18 months plus we have been performing on par. We have no confidence in our system, economy, way of life or politics. We look for the worst and always find it.
Our news media only feeds our paranoia by publishing mostly negative news. When was the last time you read anything encouraging or heard anything positive on the news? Even our weather reports warn of trouble – “Tomorrow will be bright and sunny with a high of 76 and a low of 62, but there are possibilities of rain in the late afternoon or early evening.”
How many papers would USA Today sell if its headlines were “Economy Shows Modest Gains As The Stimulus Package Gains Traction?” Would you even pay attention?
How are we doing economically? Look around. Have you been to the store lately? The shelves aren’t bare; the store isn’t empty; finding a good parking spot is a pain; the prices haven’t come tumbling down.
Have you been on an Interstate lately? Have you noticed two very important economic indicators – the volume of construction and truck traffic? I just made a run from Birmingham, Ala., to Atlanta, Ga., and went through three or four construction zones in 150 miles and encountered truck traffic like I haven’t seen this year. There were trains of 20 to 30 trucks forcing me to inhale their diesel dust and nauseating fumes most of the trip. Understand, this is not a complaint; quite the contrary. I love trucks, orange cones and work zone signs more than I can describe. They mean the industry is working. The trucks mean that goods are moving from the manufacturer, docks or terminals on their way to stores, other distribution centers or dealers.
I scoured the news to see if anyone was reporting on the increased volume of construction work or truck traffic and guess what? Nothing! There wasn’t a lot of positive news, and you have to be dedicated and work hard to find information on new constructions projects.
A couple of months ago I attended an industry trade show that had its second highest attendance in its more than 30-year history. Manufacturers and distributors were selling product, not promises or dreams. Attendees were buying. A number of manufacturers introduced new products. In fact, AEM, the show host, listed over 150 new products in the pre-show announcements. The atmosphere was positive; exhibitors felt that the attendees were serious customers, and the attendees were very active despite the uncooperative weather for two out of the three days.
Are we there yet? No, but we are on the way and we need to think positive. Let’s face it: You can’t throw almost a trillion dollars at something and not have some of it start producing results. Maybe the trickle-down is just that, a trickle-down and it hasn’t reached the level that produces jobs, products or pavements.
As we ease our way out of this recession we should have a plan on what we are going to do to be part of the early growth. You don’t want to wait and hope that something will happen – you need to make it happen. Study your market. Know which segments are doing the best, where the money is being spent, and what competitors are doing to get their share of the business. It’s not going to be easy, but then even in the best of times it’s been a challenge. It’s never been easy and there are always some problems to overcome. This year it’s simply a different set of problems that we must handle.
Even if you weren’t a Boy Scout, you need to adopt their motto, “Be prepared.” This is probably the best advice you will ever get anywhere from anyone.
This article appeared as the national editorial in the January 2010 issues of the ACP magazines.