Editorial: Taking the temperature of manufacturer expectations

Thoughts on an authoritative study of industrial confidence.
Patrick Flannery
March 15, 2019
By
Thanks to our sister publication, Plant magazine, for sharing its Outlook 2019 study of confidence levels among Canadian manufacturers (see page 22). The overall picture is one of cooling activity in the short term demanding a renewed focus on productivity and innovation to control costs. In general, I’d say the overall results match closely what a similar study restricted to glass fabricators would find.

U.S. protectionism is on the minds of many CEOs, and I know façade fabricators are no exception. It can hurt us on the demand side, if we want to export to the U.S., and on the supply side when we buy materials and machinery if the Canadian government retaliates. Most Canadian architectural glass manufacturers still rely mostly on the Canadian market for their daily bread, but our economies are just too entangled for us to be completely insulated from anything the U.S. does. More concerning than the direct effects on our businesses is the overall depressive effect on the economy from reductions in trade. When automotive and energy catch a cold, the rest of us come down with the flu, to adapt a common cliché. Both sectors are laid up with the sniffles right now; automotive because of uncertainty about the long-term viability of its cross-border supply chains and ongoing taxpayer-funded perks for auto makers in American jurisdictions; and energy because of competition from American fracking and the failure of pipeline projects like Trans-Mountain that have been scuttled by protectionist lobbies wearing a fig leaf of environmentalism.

Back to the study. Three-quarters of respondents said machinery was their top investment priority in the next three years and 63 per cent said training. Good. Investment in things that will help you meet an upsurge in demand when things are temporarily slow will help you take full advantage of opportunities when they emerge. Recoveries from market slowdowns can be more dangerous to small companies than the slowdowns themselves.

About half of respondents reported concern with cyber attacks and this number is probably too low. I’ve been bumping into more and more people lately who have been hit with ransomware attacks and the effects are devastating. Imagine having to throw out your corporate server with all the data on it and start fresh with a new one – or pay tens of thousands of dollars to a criminal with no assurance that you won’t simply be targeted again. Don’t think you are too small and poor to become a target. This has happened to smaller shops only pulling down a few million per year.

As you can see from our special cover, we are focused on Top Glass in this issue. Our annual trade conference is the place where you can find the technology and education that will prepare you to meet all the challenges discussed above. See you April 17 at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ont.

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