At a recent conference, Jeff Mengel cited numbers showing how the plastics industry has contracted since 2005.
There's the 15 percent drop in the value of the industry from $100 billion to $85 billion an average machine utilization rate of 36 percent based on a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week schedule, and the closing of an estimated 800 companies.
But those statistics may only scratch the surface, he noted in a discussion at the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors Benchmarking and Best Practices conference, held Oct. 21-22 in Indianapolis.
The companies taking part in the industry survey by Mengel for Plante & Moran PLLC are typically those that are looking for ways to improve and that have already invested time and effort to find answers, rather than those that are barely hanging on.
The fact is, he said, you're not even seeing things as bad as it can be.
To get a read on how businesses are doing today in the new normal, Plante & Moran polled 116 firms in February for an idea of how they handled the recession and what they are doing now to rebuild.
The survey showed that 66 percent of the companies said they had survived or maintained their business through 2009, although 72 percent of the firms said the economy would take two or more years to return to normal.
A third of the companies cut their workforce by at least 10 percent, and 31 percent cut worker numbers by at least 25 percent. However, nearly 27 percent made no cuts at all.
Companies that were already practicing lean manufacturing focused on it even more during the recession, and those that had put off lean production finally made needed cuts and improvements, Mengel said.
If we didn't have productivity increases, we saw, then we sure would have been in a world of hurt, he said.
That continual improvement will remain a central theme as the economy recovers in an expected series of fits and starts, said Laurie Harbour, president of consulting group Harbour Results Inc. of Berkley, Mich.
Processors will never be able to control material costs, so they have to look at ways to lower other production costs in their facilities. That means getting more value out of workers and machines alike.
We have to invest in people and we have to invest in equipment, she said.
Plante & Moran's studies continue to indicate that the most successful businesses are those that understand their costs and create new products customers are willing to pay for, Mengel said.
That means turning away some business, and long-term strategic planning to determine how the company fits in a global marketplace.
You have to look out 10 years from now, to 2020, and ask yourself where you want your company to be, he said.
Harbour said entrepreneurs who had successfully built a comfortable niche are now facing a future with global and local competition. They need to look at marketing and sales, put their name out before new customers and create new parts for existing customers.
There are things that companies have never had to consider before, like sales and marketing, she said. Most people we've done assessments on don't even have a marketing budget, but the time you want to be out there, getting your name out in public, is the time when everyone else is pulling back.
But even if successful companies are now beginning to breathe easy, industry watchers point to economic signs that it may be years before sales return to normal levels a move that will depend on a lower unemployment rate and consumers regaining enough confidence to begin spending more.
Seventy percent of the U.S. economy is driven by consumer spending, said Kim Korth, president of consulting group IRN Inc. of Grand Rapids, Mich.
The degree of predictability in the marketplace of the past 15 or 20 years is gone, she said.
You need to expect increased volatility.