American business success: Optimism peppered with pragmatism

March 19, 2013
By: Tim Heston

So said Don McNeeley, president and COO, Chicago Tube & Iron Co., and professor at Northwestern University, speaking Feb. 27 at The FABRICATOR’s Leadership Summit in Palm Harbor, Fla.

After conversations with various fabricators since then, most tend to agree with him. Business is OK, not great, but big things may be on the horizon. One attendee said she was working through a massive pile of request-for-quotes and was wondering how she was going to get through them all. That’s not a bad problem to have. The recession purged many local markets, and fabricators that performed poorly (or were just unlucky) fell by the wayside. Now OEMs and top tier suppliers are calling on top-performing fabricators to deliver the goods.

Meanwhile, before this week’s troubles thanks to the mess in Cyprus, the stock market pushed into uncharted territory.

“The markets are nuts.”

So said Chris Kuehl, economic analyst for the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Intl., and managing director at Lawrence, Kan.-based Armada Executive Intelligence, pointed out in a recent e-newsletter. His comment (in Kuehl’s ever colorful style) reflects what the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) released in a report. According to Kuehl, the report said “there are far more things to be worried about than to be encouraged by.”

Besides the BIS’s comments, we read other news that you’d think would turn all of us into perennial Debbie Downers. We’ve got the euro crisis. Since 2000, manufacturing has shed 5 million jobs, and the White House recently put out a report trumpeting the industry’s potential as an engine for jobs. Yes, manufacturing has hired a half million back in the past four years. That’s great--but we’ve got 4.5 million to go. And as Kuehl pointed out, we’re probably not going to gain all those jobs back.

So what gives? Why the optimism? Well, it’s the American Way. In April The FABRICTOR® will be covering Milwaukee-based Super Steel, a manufacturer that went into receivership in 2010. A previous owner--in his mid-80s--purchased back the business and brought on a team to turn the business around. And they did. The company is back on the growth path, has more than doubled the size of its work force and tripled its revenue.

Business leaders weren’t totally quixotic; they peppered their optimism with pragmatism. But that optimism helped them march forth toward success. The story’s end seems so unlikely--and that, I feel, is what makes it so American.
Tim Heston

Tim Heston

Senior Editor
FMA Communications Inc.
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Elgin, IL 60123
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