I just finished re-reading my editorial column from last January. It was entitled, “Looking Ahead,” and I wanted to remember what I said.
As we started 2009, it was a time of trepidation and uncertainty. In my column, I wondered how I would feel after the year was over. “Will I look back on 2009 thinking, ‘Thank goodness that awful year is over,’” I mused. Or, “Will I think, ‘Thank goodness. It wasn’t as bad as expected.’”
As the year unfolded, unfortunately more on the “awful” end of the scale, like most people I concentrated on simple survival on a day-to-day basis. I met custom woodworking shop owners who were doing every little and big thing they could to stay in business. Some efforts — like streamlining production, reducing waste and watching overhead — are survival tactics that will serve those companies well after business picks up, somewhat of a silver lining to the trials of the recession. Others, like layoffs and reducing worker benefits, are the painful human costs, which could hinder the process of rebuilding a strong, skilled work force during the rebound.
I remember that late in 2008, I heard economists predict that 2009 could be rough, but recovery would come in 2010. I held on to that thought throughout last year because, having a tendency to take things literally, I sort of expected to wake up January 1, 2010, and have everything be okay. But of course, it’s not that simple.
So, I’m adjusting my timetable expectations a little. Based on what economists are saying now and projections expressed by a number of woodworking industry leaders in a recent report done by CWB’s sister publication, Wood & Wood Products, I look forward to seeing real improvements in the second half. (The report, in which leaders are cautiously optimistic about 2010, can be viewed on woodworkingnetwork.com in the current/February issue section for W&WP.)
But even as things improve, I know that tomorrow’s landscape will be different; there will be permanent fallout, not just in terms of companies that have closed or skilled workers who won’t return to the industry, but also in the ways companies do business. I would say that nothing will be taken for granted any more — not the way money is spent, the way goods are purchased, the way employees are deployed in the shop or office. Those who have made it this far will step carefully as they regroup.
But when it’s January 1, 2011, and we know for sure what 2010 has brought, I foresee a strengthened industry full of companies that endured, revitalized, with a solid foundation on which to grow again. Now is when we start moving forward, as every step takes us closer to that end.
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.