Volume 44, Issue 1 - January 2009

Issue @ Hand

Still A Happy New Year 

These are very tough times for the glass industry. Not a day goes by when our e-news service, www.usgnn.com™, doesn’t include at least one plant closing or company lay-off. Lack of access to credit and capital, along with greatly reduced demand, has led to the most difficult economic environment I have seen in my 27 years of covering the glass industry—even worse than the infamous 1991. 

There are a few things that make what we are going through even more challenging than it was 17 years ago. In 1991, there was little work, but never did we see the wide-scale cancellation or postponement of work already in progress or contracted that we now see. Some major fabricators have gone from having so much work that they required long lead times for delivery to having so little work that they’ve closed plants and laid-off workers. This situation is particularly egregious because we know that those same companies passed up other jobs, or saw customers move elsewhere, due to their long lead times. In short, the work they passed on went elsewhere, now their jobs have cancelled and it’s too late to get the other work back.

Things aren’t faring much better for contract glaziers. As Tom Niepokoj, vice president of sales for Harmon Inc., says in our forecast article on page 32: “Our backlog is solid through the end of the third quarter of calendar year 2009. The fourth quarter and beyond is where we’re scratching our heads …” That about sums it up as many of them struggle to get through this downturn.

Our country is different than it was in 1991. The cable news networks blare gloom-and-doom on a 24-hour basis, consumers reduce their spending, banks don’t lend and no one can or wants to buy anything. 

The biggest difference between then and now is that we have lost our faith in ourselves. Compare Roosevelt’s message of the 1930s “that we have nothing to fear but fear itself” to today’s message, from both sides of the aisle, that financial Armageddon is but one moment away.

Yet, despite all the economic hardship, I remain confident in the glass industry. We will come through and survive this very difficult time. Why? Not so much because of who we are but because of what we make. Our industry is not going away. When buildings are erected and houses are built again, they still will be full of glass. We are not losing our industry to new materials or technology, like the travel agents did during the last decade. Glass is here to stay. The people who make it, enhance it and install it have to make sure they are too. This is the time for cost containment and good credit and collection policies. Both are essential to weathering the storm.

So happy New Year. Please remember that in the grand scheme of things our most important “possessions” are not really things at all—they are the God we worship, the people we love, the health we have and the education and memories we carry with us. Now without those, we’d really have nothing at all.


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