By Ty Gable
President, National Precast Concrete Association
The National Bureau of Economic Research on Sept. 20 declared that the Great Recession was officially over. In fact, they went so far as to tell us that the recession ended in June 2009. That may be the official word, but based on many conversations I’ve had recently with precasters across the United States, the effects of the two-year decline are still very much with us.
While it may not feel like it when you walk the production floor, there are signals that we may be slowly – ever so slowly – emerging from the bottom of the worst downturn of the last 80 years. The “recession is over” news made a big splash in the media as we moved from summer into fall, but that doesn’t mean we’re going back to business as usual any time soon.
Construction economists don’t always see things the same way, but there’s one area of consensus among them: The recovery is going to be painfully slow, and it will be many years before we ever get back to the level of activity we saw in 2007. The “new normal” of slow growth, tight money and increasing regulations will be very foreign to those folks who are still doing business the same way they were doing business at the beginning of the decade. But the good news is that there’s still plenty of opportunity out there – if you’re smart and nimble.
The future belongs to those companies that can keep pace with increasingly sophisticated technology, ongoing innovation and changing demands for new products. I talk with precasters all the time who are adding completely new products and branching out into new technology that provides a higher level of quality assurance to DOTs, regulators and project owners. There will be winners and losers in the new economy, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the winners will keep looking around the corner to see what’s ahead, be the first to spot the new trends, and move into the niches created by new opportunities.
We’re on the back side of the recession now, and that’s the best time to prepare for the future. If you’re waiting for a signal that a rebound is coming, you’re behind the power curve. It’s not the time to hunker down. It’s the time to get ready – by investing in technology, exploring potential new product lines and training your people.
Sure, there’s a lot of uncertainty out there. At this point we don’t know whether the Bush tax cuts will be allowed to expire or whether they’ll be extended. We don’t know what’s going to happen with health care costs and the additional administrative burden the legislation could place on small businesses. We don’t know about environmental regulations or increasing OSHA enforcement.
But we do know that the future belongs to the smart. The winners tomorrow will be those companies that know how to market the advantages of precast as a construction material that saves time, is sustainable, is modular and is produced in a quality-controlled environment. In the spirit of the coming post-recession economy, here are three words to help you prepare for the future: Train your people.
Many companies made the hard decisions in 2008 and 2009 to trim personnel and expenses to the bone. The employees who are left no doubt feel under increasing pressure to work harder and produce more – even though they haven’t had raises or bonuses for the last couple years.
You may not be able to pay them more money, but you can show them that you value their loyalty and their service by equipping them with the training they need to work smarter, stay up to date with technology and be more productive and efficient. There’s no substitute for in-person precast-specific training provided at The Precast Show. You just can’t beat sitting in a room with an expert instructor and a group of your peers and learning new techniques that you can put to work as soon as you return to the plant. Couple that experience with time on the trade show floor, where you can see the latest products and talk to more experts, and you’ve got a winning combination.
But even if you can take only your top people to Charlotte, ongoing training of your entire workforce should be a priority. Check out the online training opportunities at www.precast.org, and check back often. Through Precast University and other educational opportunities, we’re committed to ongoing development of meaningful training opportunities that prepare precasters for success. We’ve looked around the corner, and we see a future where precast is widely respected as a highly technical, high quality, endlessly innovative building material. We hope to see you there.