Handle With Care: Controlling Your Own Destiny

Material handlers will need to get by on more than a hope and a prayer.

One thing that amazes me is how the national pollsters and pundits are able to report on the national mood of the public without, apparently, ever talking to a single person who manufactures or distributes goods. True, these types of people are getting much harder for the pollsters to find, as the number of layoffs continues to climb. According to the most recent employment figures, the U.S. manufacturing industry lost more than 160,000 people in March, while transportation and warehousing shed an additional 34,000 jobs. And yet, amazingly, Congressional approval ratings are at their highest levels in four years, according to Gallup (admittedly, a 39% approval rating is still pretty abysmal), despite the government’s miserable track record of sitting on its hands while lines of credit dry up, companies go out of business and entire industries are on the critical list.

It’s pretty much a given that our elected officials don’t have the first clue about what happens within the nation’s industrial supply chain. The government knows how to raise taxes or cut taxes, how to regulate or deregulate, but in terms of understanding how companies actually make and move stuff, they don’t seem to know much at all. And frankly, I don’t think they care.

Now, in normal times—meaning during periods when the economy hasn’t completely cratered—the government is at best a help, at worst a hindrance to growth, while most companies are allowed to succeed or fail on their own. Thanks to the recession, though, that level of corporate self-reliance is gone, and your ability—and your customers’ ability, and your suppliers’ ability—to get the financing to expand your operations or invest in developing new products has pretty much dried up.

And so now the government, in its infinitesimal wisdom, has decided that the best thing it can do is step in and start taking over our banks, our insurance companies, our healthcare system, and perhaps most troubling of all, our manufacturers. I woke up the other night in a cold sweat, trying to shake off the nightmare of sitting behind the wheel of a new GM car designed by a government committee.

Meanwhile, the Material Handling Industry of America says that recovery in the market for new material handling equipment will begin early in the year. Unfortunately, the year in question is 2011. New orders are expected to be down as much as 20% this year and maybe off another 10% in 2010.

Actually, there is some good news in all of this. As maligned and ignored as U.S. manufacturers often find themselves, when they get up a good head of indignant steam, they can still be a force to be reckoned with. Case in point: the so-called Employee Free Choice Act, aka the card check. When word got out among U.S. businesses about the potential economic havoc this bill could wreak, enough Congressional arms were twisted to slow down the bill’s momentum, and perhaps stop it dead in its tracks. So there is still power in numbers.

No doubt about it; 2009 is going to be a tough year, but while the government tries to reach its tentacles into every nook and cranny of our factories and warehouses, you still have control over Dave Blanchardyour own destiny. According to the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, there are three ways to survive a down economy:

1. Steady as she goes and pray for the best.
2. Cut to the bone and hope for the best.
3. Do things better and learn from the best.

Now, prayer and hope are always good ideas, but we’ll leave those up to you. Here at MHM, we’ll focus on Strategy No. 3 as we continue our mission of offering insights and best practices from the heart of American industry, with the goal of helping everybody get better. We’ll get through this recession together, on a hope and a prayer and a heaping helping of best practices.

Dave Blanchard
Editorial Director/Associate Publisher
[email protected]

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