Nothing more than feelings?

There is a widening gap between individuals making the efforts and decisions that result in real products, like forgings, and the nameless, faceless authorities who determine what those forgings are worth.

Rpbert Brooks
Robert Brooks | Editor

There’s an expectation that a year-ending column should settle some debate or lay the foundation for a new start in the coming year. The difficulty with this, obviously, is that the ending and the beginning are mostly in our minds, and most of the problems that we face — assuming we understand them fully — don’t have deadlines.

Around here, we do have deadlines, and we add to the dilemma by planning and presenting a survey of our readersthat seeks to identify their circumstances and concerns as the New Year begins. So, what should the columnist do when the results indicate more uncertainty?

Uncertainty is numbing, and it’s haunting: it makes investors cautious and businesses frugal, and it makes individuals despair. That desperation affects everyone, from the consumers who will not buy manufactured goods to the forging industry managers who responded to our survey, such as the one who wrote: “All businesses are down: this is the first time in my 30 years in the forging industry that this has happened.”

In fact, there are reasons now to think that 2011 will be a very positive time for forgers: important customer markets like automaking, power generation, and aerospace are indicating increases in demand after two unsatisfactory years, and political circumstances seem to be shifting into a more business- and consumer-friendly mode. This should ease the pressure on forgers and other manufacturers, but the sense of doubt that has overtaken individuals has spread some very deep roots.

“The federal government must stop being our opponent, and start supporting manufacturing in the international arena,” another forger wrote to us, while yet another vented that “… it’s imperative that our government recognize that in order to grown our business, we cannot be penalized for that growth.”

Understand that these are the opinions of successful, intelligent, well-informed individuals. More than that, they are stakeholders in an industry founded on metallurgy, physics, thermal dynamics, structural engineering. They deal in results and they seek proof.

Most troubling of all are the responses that reveal a sense of loss or abandonment. “The forging industry has issues retaining engineers that have a true love for forgings,” one wrote. And from another: “I think it is the high schools: Teachers have been discouraging students from entering our industry, telling them that it is hot and dirty, and that they will never advance.”

There is a widening gap between individuals making the efforts and decisions that result in real products, like forgings, and the nameless, faceless authorities who determine what those forgings are worth. Forgings produced in Indiana or Wisconsin are of better quality than ever, but that’s no assurance that their full worth will be returned from a global market. Such decisions are left to a nameless purchasing manager who selects the cheapest product available; or to faceless elected officials and bureaucrats who will not acknowledge the effects of their taxing and regulatory policies.

The disparity between efforts and rewards has never seemed greater, and that accounts for the uncertainty that haunts the well-informed minds of hard-working people.

There are great possibilities ahead for forgers. If there were not, CEO Gary Vroman, on merging his company into a larger competitor, could not declare that “integrating Ladish’s manufacturing operations with ATI’s broad product range of specialty metals immediately enhances our ability to serve our existing customer base. Beyond that, there are new markets now well within our reach that were previously a stretch for us.”

That’s all true, but there is truth also in the doubts of people still working away to make such opportunities really happen.

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