Time to choose

Time to choose

Robert BrooksAs each year draws to a close, that special season arrives: opinion-poll time, the weeks or months when there is a poll to reflect every choice available, choices we didn’t know we had, or had to make. Polls tell us the best movies, the most askedfor gifts, and the most reliable cell-phone service. From college football to the permanent presidential election cycle, to those talent shows that will be filling your TV again soon, you can find a poll to tell you what other people are thinking — and presumably what you ought to think, if you want to fit in with the rest of the world.

This seems odd to me because, in at least one poll I found most Americans don’t know what to think. According to USA Today one recent morning, the adults in their survey are unable to decide what upsets them the most: their all in a quandary over what should be their greatest anxiety … the economy, health care, immigration, or foreign affairs. Knowing this, the paper concludes, would help us understand the development of other polls (i.e., elections) as 2008 develops.

But, apparently USA Today’s pollsters didn’t survey Forging’s readers, who are indicating a hopefulness and confidence nearly unmatched in previous tallies of our annual Business Outlook Survey.

I have a hunch about this, drawn out of our survey results about forging shipments: 50% of our respondents expect their shipment totals to increase in 2008, while a further 42.5% believe shipments will at least equal the 2007 total. These are the opinions of owners, executives, and managers in a heavy manufacturing sector, even as one of their major consumer segments, domestic automakers, is cutting output.

The explanation, I suspect, is that the U.S. currency’s devaluation makes domestically manufactured parts more competitive globally; offshore buyers are taking a fresh look at U.S. products, because they’re more affordable now, and domestic buyers are sourcing closer to home because prices suddenly are more agreeable.

Does this make sense? Probably so: we asked our readers for their opinions about their business, not their lives. If we’d polled their outlooks on politics or world affairs, or sports or weather, we might have detected a bit more of the anxiety gripping the larger society.

I asked a business owner recently about this odd calm in the wider storm of domestic unease, and he agreed that the currency devaluation has had a positive effect on the manufacturing industries. Lots of businesses will gain new orders and thrive as customers shift their purchases to dollar-based suppliers, he predicted. Many of those manufacturers will thrive as a result, and new investments will follow the increase in activity.

But, my source warned, some of these businesses may not apprehend that more requests for quotes, or even more orders, will not make their operations successful. They may even overreact and spend themselves into further trouble. Higher levels of demand will put a higher premium on product quality and customer service. Buyers with global reach are smart shoppers, and will identify the best suppliers quickly, meaning the rest will fall further behind the competition.

It’s a plausible extension to my own theory, which, after all is only an extrapolation of the poll results. Time may tell if we’re right, if anyone even remembers the results of any of these polls.

My opinion is that the wiser course would be to ignore them all. Like my source, find a lesson in the facts available to us, not the feelings of other people.

Robert E. Brooks | Editor

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