How are you doing?
It's a simple question. But in the plastics processing business, for the first time in about four years, it seems that the answer isn't a gloomy sigh.
Business is picking up. Many companies are investing in equipment - maybe not adding capacity, but at least replacing old clunkers or investing in new processing technology.
Mold makers that were taking on any sort of work just to keep workers busy now are bidding on real projects again.
Backlogs are growing, requests for quotes are in the mail, and machines are starting to hum again. To paraphrase an old political commercial: It's morning in America.
You see the evidence on our own pages. Think back to 2001 and 2002, when our issues were filled with stories of bankruptcies and plant shutdowns and layoffs. There was a period there when we had very few stories about anyone expanding or buying equipment, and just about nothing on any new plants.
Our Mailbag section was filled weekly with passionate letters from readers concerned about the future of manufacturing, molding, and toolmaking in North America.
OK, that part hasn't quite changed yet.
And some high-profile bankruptcies linger in the headlines, like the mess at Venture Holdings Co. LLC.
And there's absolutely concern about how solid this recovery will be, especially with energy and raw material prices starting to rise just as business seems poised to recover.
The biggest worries linger: First, that the outsourcing issue will overshadow all others, leaving a limp recovery and little reason to celebrate; or second, that some act of terrorism will sap the life out of the economy and send it spiraling down again.
Still, even with those caveats, business seems to be breathing again. Get rid of those life-support machines, toss away the walker; the plastics industry is ready to add jobs and get to work.
Are you ready to jump on the bandwagon?
Consider what that means. Managing in an ``up'' economy is a lot different from a ``down'' one. Some plastics industry newcomers don't even know what a strong economy feels like, and it's been so long, and we've gotten so old, that the rest of us can barely remember.
A few lessons should linger, though: Remember how heavy debt loads crippled so many companies during this downturn. How being overly dependent on a single customer or end market put so many companies in jeopardy. And how chasing after the cheapest labor, whether it was in Mexico or elsewhere, wasn't enough to protect companies from other serious problems.
The world has changed, just like it will again tomorrow. So step up to the plate and get ready to manage.