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Time for a spoonful of sugar

July 16, 2008
If all you listened to was the six o’clock news, you’d think we should all get ready for the unemployment line. Gas prices are way up, and the housing market has been down for months. The dollar is weak, and companies are laying off hundreds of workers ...

If all you listened to was the six o’clock news, you’d think we should all get ready for the unemployment line. Gas prices are way up, and the housing market has been down for months. The dollar is weak, and companies are laying off hundreds of workers on a regular basis.

On the other hand, when I talk to people in the fluid power industry, business is great. One company official mentioned that when business is up, it’s usually because one sector shows very strong growth. He said he’s been seeing moderate growth in all sectors of his business, so the overall results are very good. Others report that specialized markets they entered a few years ago are paying off big time. Distributors I’ve talked to seem to echo these results.

Now I understand that I am part of the media, so some people might be reluctant to tell me if business is lousy, or that they’re on the verge of bankruptcy. And my scope is rather limited to fluid power, so I may not see the forest for the trees. But compared to the information people have shared with me in the past, the fluid power sector seems pretty healthy.

Yes, gas prices are up and the dollar is down. But the weak dollar has two faces. A weak dollar means we have to pay more for foreign goods, such as oil. On the other hand, a weak dollar makes our products more affordable for overseas buyers. So I would think this is one reason why business in the manufacturing sector seems to be doing well. I’ve even heard from people overseas who will be vacationing in the US because air fares and US prices compare favorably to other destinations.

Another concern is layoffs. But consolidation within virtually all industries has been going on for years, and workforce reduction is one of the reasons why mergers occur. So when one company buys or merges with another, naturally, they won’t need as many workers.

But these are all just observations. I haven’t analyzed any numbers or pored over any financial reports. But I know people who have. They are the economists and financial and market experts who present their observations at NFPA’s annual Economic Outlook Conference, being held this year August 19 and 20 at the Westin Chicago North Shore hotel and conference center in Wheeling, Ill. Visit www.nfpa.com or call (414) 778-3344 for details.

Most of us don’t enjoy analyzing financial reports or applying economics. If we did, we would’ve pursued economics or accounting, not a technical field. But the presenters at the EOC spend their lives studying markets and money, so we don’t have to. But just as important, they are entertaining speakers. Somehow, they make all this stuff meaningful, interesting, and with a generous dose of humor.

I suppose it’s like a scene from one of my favorite movies, Mary Poppins. Mary explains that injecting some fun into an otherwise mundane task makes everything a little easier. The discussion transitions into a musical number that “just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, in a most delightful way.”

Alan Hitchcox
[email protected]

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