Ever more of late I find myself thinking, “So, this is what rock bottom looks like.”

At the very least, I find myself increasingly hoping that we are standing on firm economic ground — that the worse of the recession is over, and we can all begin plotting a forward course of action for our business and our lives.

I felt this sensation of renewed optimism on multiple occasions during the Closets & Home Organization Conference & Expo last month in Schaumburg, IL. Yes, there were fewer people in attendance than past years’ Closets events, but the many home organization professionals who did attend seemed genuinely upbeat about their prospects. They were a welcome reminder that not only is there business to be had, but those who stayed active in the market are in a favorable position to grab all of it that they can at the expense of their hunkered-down competitors.

Whether the dialogue took place during conference breaks, at the lively networking reception or on the expo floor, it was truly refreshing to speak with attendees and exhibitors alike about some of the positive movements taking place in their markets. One common theme among many of my conversations over the three-day event revolved around the realization that the housing market probably cannot get any worse and is likely to get better, including remodeling spending.

In fact, I heard more positive comments about individual company’s business at the Closets Conference & Expo than I have heard in a long while. While some of the conversations turned into lively debates about President Barack Obama’s massive economic stimulus plan, there was little dispute that doing nothing would have been a worse bet.

Good News for a Change
The groundswell of good tidings has further been evidenced in recent news reports and press releases. Among the examples:

• The National Association of Home Builders issued a press release noting that “thanks to record low mortgage rates,” 55 million families (half of those in the United States) can afford today’s $200,000 median-priced new home. What’s more, NAHB noted that single-family permits increased 11 percent in February and that the association’s consumer Web site — www.federalhousingtaxcredit.com — attracted 1.5 million visitors in February and March to learn about the economic stimulus package.

• Andersen Windows of Bayport, MN, and Simonton Windows of Parkersburg, WV, recently hired back 180 and 100 workers respectively. Each company said it was benefiting from customers taking advantage of the $1,500 tax credit being offered in the economic stimulus package to install energy-efficient windows.

• Vaughan-Bassett is preparing to invest more than $2 million to expand its manufacturing facility in Galax, VA, a move that will create 100 new jobs.

This is not to say that the wood products industry is out of the woods. There is plenty of bad news to get you down if you wish. The monthly Trends of Business Survey reports issued by the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Assn., for example, continue to bleed red ink. The long-standing Wood Industry Conference hosted by the Wood Machinery Manufacturers of America, Woodworking Machinery Industry Assn. and the Association of Woodworking & Furnishings Suppliers was cancelled because of lack of registrants.

But even though the glass might not yet be half full, I sense that the leak has been patched and the water is clearer. Furniture, cabinets, millwork and other wood products remain a vital fabric of our lifestyles.

The sales being lost today are the pent-up demand waiting to be unleashed tomorrow.

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