By Ty Gable
On Oct. 29, 1941, Winston Churchill gave one of his most often quoted speeches when he addressed the students at Harrow School in the midst of World War II. London was reeling from the effects of The Blitz, a sustained bombing campaign by Nazi Germany meant to break the spirit of the British people. Churchill’s words telegraphed to the world that the British would not be demoralized, despite the onslaught. “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense,” he said.
While our situation certainly bears no comparison to Great Britain’s in the post-blitz period, the words provide guidance to anybody struggling to survive in the precast business today, as we struggle to climb out from a three-year recession in the construction industry.
With the precast industry dropping about 20 percent of volume in 2009, we’re back to turn-of-the-century levels of 10 years ago. We do not foresee a return to the 2006 high water mark any time soon. That era was fueled by the housing bubble, unrealistic optimism in commercial building (notice any empty office buildings in your town?) and unrestrained speculation. The Great Recession brought us all back to earth and we are headed for a long stretch of realism in our markets.
Robert Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction, has stated that we have made the transition from steady decline to at least “low-level stability.” That’s the new normal. We may be in for several years of tediously slow growth, but it’s important to remember that stability at a lower level is not a bad thing. There’s still a profit to
be made by running an ultra-efficient operation at a lower level and being open to new product lines and new ways of doing business.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the keys for precasters during this time are to know your costs, control your costs, stay close to your customers, continue to seek new markets and to train and equip your employees.
And by the way, a lot has been said recently about creating jobs to get the economy going. Quite frankly, that notion is putting the cart in front of the horse. Once the economy gets going again, jobs will be created – not by the government but by businesses. The answer to creating jobs is elegantly simple. Fund infrastructure. Pass a transportation reauthorization bill to fund the serious infrastructure rebuilding that comes with it, rather than last year’s “shovel-ready” blacktopping and road-widening projects. Then get off the backs of businesses and let us get to work. We’ll not only create jobs, we’ll rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.
Over the past year we’ve written a lot about the economy. It’s been mostly negative, and frankly we’re growing weary of that. So this is the last gloom and doom column of the year. If you’re looking for hope, here it is. If you have adjusted your overhead to this new market reality, made the tough decisions and retooled for a smaller, more efficient operation, then you’ve already done the heavy lifting. Now all you need is the resolve to stay in it for the long haul. Never, never, never give up. Keep adhering to those principles. We will continue fighting on your behalf, developing new training and new tools and working tirelessly for your success. And when prosperity does return, we’ll be the first ones to shout it out. Until then, stay tuned!